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Journal entry

One teacher’s small step for man

Caves

My most treasured possession hangs in my family room. It’s a letter received by my late grandmother, Hazel Caves, from one of her many former students on the occasion of her retirement in 1968.

Neil Armstrong, who died on Saturday, sent his former elementary-school math teacher his “warm personal greetings” from Houston. He regretted that “technical commitments” kept him from attending her retirement party in tiny Sycamore, Ohio, at which the letter was read.

At that time Armstrong was a little more than a year away from becoming the first man to set foot on the moon – we can only imagine the range of “technical commitments” that occupied him.

Armstrong’s obituaries have uniformly referred to his modesty; I like to think that’s reflected in the final paragraph of this letter, which says, “I am grateful for the part you played in my life.”

I refer to that letter as my most treasured possession not because I’ve been a lifelong space hobbyist. Nor is it because the letter contains the autograph of a man who was notoriously reluctant to give out autographs.

It is because that letter is a lasting testament to the impact that my grandmother – a modest public schoolteacher herself – had on this Earth (and beyond).

Keith Elchert is a copy editor for The Journal Gazette’s editorial page. He missed Armstrong’s first step on the moon because his parents sent him to bed early on July 20, 1969, but enjoyed the trip to Cedar Point the following day. A version of this column first appeared on his Facebook page.

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