SANDWICH – Eighteen-year-old Doug Hardekopf of Sandwich had a difficult decision to make the morning of Sunday, July 20, 1969: Stay at home to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing on TV or attend a fundraiser airshow featuring Bob Hope at the Sandwich Airport.
Hardekopf decided to attend the show, where Hope announced to the crowd that the Eagle had landed and the crowd responded by erupting into cheers and applause.
“I watched Bob Hope on TV all the time, so his coming to town was a big deal,” Hardekopf said. “It was just a fun time. Everyone went. It’s hard to describe how exciting it was, how historical.”
Tickets for the show cost $3. The benefit raised about $15,000, which paid for a plane to be delivered to Rev. Tony Gendusa, a missionary priest in New Guinea, by Jerrie Mock, the first female pilot to fly solo around the world in a single-engine airplane.
“In 1969, $3 was about two hours’ wages,” Hardekopf said. “Back then, a hamburger and a drink cost a quarter at McDonald’s. You could feed a family of six for $2. I think that the tickets would have cost about $30 each in today’s money, which isn’t too expensive, but not too cheap, either.”
Thirteen-year-old Gloria Birtell Hollifield traveled from DeKalb to Sandwich with her family to attend the show. Her stepfather was a county sheriff’s deputy who helped work the event.
“We got there real early and there weren’t many people there yet. We got to meet Bob Hope, and I thought he was the nicest person. He asked my name and asked about me, about school. It really made an impression that someone famous wanted to know about me. … I remember, too, telling him I played the piano and he said that was something to be proud of. I thought of that many times throughout the years. [He was] just a really down-to-earth guy.”
The show’s lineup included singers and stories and jokes by Hope, similar to an episode of his TV show. The event featured a performance by Ginny Tiu Revue, with Ginny playing piano and her two younger sisters and her brother joining her act, precision flying by the Air Barons from the Naval Air Station at Glenview and precision parachute drops, demonstration flights in a variety of planes and a Piper Cub race. The show was emceed by WGN Radio’s Eddie Hubbard.
It has been speculated that the reason the show was held in Sandwich was because two men associated with Hope’s professional career were natives of Sandwich: Bill Morrow, one of his early comedy writers, and Steve Orr, one of the film editors of his Christmas special.
During the show, Hope joked about the name of Sandwich, referring to the citizens as “crusts” and poked fun at the size of the airport, saying it was the first time he ever played in a cow pasture.
Hardekopf remembers having to walk from his house to the airport because there was no parking.
“It was a hot summer day, probably about 90 degrees, and almost everyone stood because there was very limited seating,” he said. “Then we all rushed home to watch TV and listen to the radio to hear more about the moon landing.”
After the show, Hollifield went to her aunt and uncle’s house, with her younger family members lining up on the rug in front of the TV to watch the moon landing.
The moon landing’s coverage included a 31-hour TV super special with a three-hour moon walk, which started at 1:12 a.m. Monday, July 21, 1969.
According to a July 23, 1969, Daily Chronicle article, when Hope commented on Apollo 11’s moon landing, he reminded the crowd that they had been watching a biplane do loops while the astronauts were making history. He pointed out that young people in the audience would be visiting all of the planets someday, saying, “If I can visit Sandwich, anything is possible.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle