GOSHEN — On July 20, 1969, millions of Americans gathered with their families to watch on their television sets the groundbreaking first landing on the moon.

Awe and disbelief filled the nation as astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, walked on the face of the moon and explored space — the last frontier, as it is known by many.

One person, Jerry Ross, a Crown Point native, sat in his living room with his family and watched the moon landing with great pride in his country, the first nation to put humans on the moon.

At that moment, as Ross watched Aldrin and Armstrong walk on the moon, he knew he wanted to become an astronaut.

A mechanical engineering student at Purdue, Ross was also very proud of the fact that Armstrong was a Purdue graduate himself.

Ross graduated from Purdue in 1970 and then received his master’s degree (also in mechanical engineering) in 1972. In 1980, after almost of decade of involvement with the U.S. Air Force, Ross was selected to become an astronaut.

In 1988, during his second flight into space aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, Ross carried with him two bags — one filled with tulip tree seeds and the other with sycamore tree seeds, with the hope of planting sycamore and tulip trees in all of Indiana’s 92 counties.

Stan Knafel, Ross’ roommate at Purdue, was excited when he heard that one of Ross’ sycamore seedlings would be planted at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, where Knafel worked as part of the Purdue 4-H extension.

On April 20, 1990, one of Ross’ “space trees” were planted at the fairgrounds. Six Elkhart County 4-H representatives were there for the planting. The six were Phil Gordon, extension coordinator; Rod Rowe, fair board president; Knafel, extension youth agent and friend of Ross; Janice Gawthrop, 4-H Corp. board member; Jan Robinson, state 4-H Foundation chairman; and Phil Lindenman, 4-H Corp. board president. Two of those people, Gawthrop and Lindenman, have since passed away.

The Sycamore is still growing at the fairgrounds near the miracle of life calving tent next to the Farmstead barn.


Speaking of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Ross said he is still proud that the United States was the first country to send and successfully put people on the moon.

“I knew all three of the Apollo 11 crew. I still keep in contact with Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin. That was a tremendous team,” Ross said.

According to Ross, Neil Armstrong was very meticulous and professional. He was a great pilot, remaining calm and cool in just about every situation. There was no better person to be the first to walk on the moon, Ross said. Aldrin was very energetic and outgoing, the complete opposite of Armstrong. Mike Collins, according to Ross, was very talented and like Armstrong, he is very quiet and soft spoken. All three were brilliant astronauts.

On what it’s like to be up in space Ross said, “It’s the most incredible experience, it’s hard to describe in words. It takes about 90 minutes to go around the Earth and when you do, you see just how fragile the Earth is. The sunrises and sunsets in space are spectacular. This beautiful planet that we call Earth is God’s gift to mankind.”

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