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Remembering Apollo 11: Three share unique stories


Fifty years ago, Jack Bussa leaned close to the radio and hung on every word from Cmdr. Neil Armstrong.

Bussa, a young 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and his wife, Marilyn, were stationed at an air defense missile installation in Germany.

They held their breath during the tense moments when Apollo 11 astronauts touched down on the moon. So many things could go wrong. So many things were unknown.

On July 20, 1969, more than 500 million people worldwide anxiously watched and listened on television and radio as Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.

The Eagle lunar module landed at 5:17 p.m. Central Time, while Michael Collins waited for its return in the Columbia command module orbiting the moon.

Angela Major 

Jack Bussa holds an edition of the Stars and Stripes newspaper that details the moon landing Wednesday at his Mercyhealth East Clinic office in Janesville. Bussa was a young 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army when the first humans walked on the moon.

As the 50th anniversary approaches, many people such as Bussa remember the landmark moment of human endeavor.

Bussa, John Wolfram and Paul Rufledt, who was born after the moon landing, shared their unique stories with The Gazette to mark the occasion.

Bussa described himself as incredibly alert and unable to speak as he listened to Armstrong on Armed Forces Radio.

He did not have access to a TV, but he vividly imagined the descent.

Only when Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed,” did Bussa realize the module had touched down safely.

Bussa felt relieved and thrilled.

“It was for the whole world to see,” he said. “I was a very proud American. I think everyone was inspired by it. It was something achieved in just eight years.”

The U.S. effort to send astronauts to the moon began with an appeal by President John F. Kennedy.

On May 25, 1961, he told a joint session of Congress that the nation should commit itself to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.

Eight years later, Bussa listened in awe to reports of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon.

Angela Major 

Stars and Stripes, an American military newspaper, from Tuesday, July 22, 1969, two days after the moon landing.

“There was no sense going to bed because it was all too exhilarating,” Bussa said. “We stayed up for the first steps, the moon walk and the president’s call, all occurring quite late at night for us.”

President Richard Nixon made what has been called the longest-distance telephone call ever when he called the astronauts on the moon to congratulate them.

Bussa was an engineer for a decade but later studied medicine.

He and his family moved to Janesville in 1988.

Today, Bussa is an ophthalmologist for Mercyhealth at Mercy Clinic East.

He recently viewed the actual television coverage of the moon landing on the National Geographic channel.

“I finally understand what people in this country were seeing,” he said. “Back then, you did not have a constant bombardment of coverage. Every hour, you would get a news update about what was happening.”

He still finds the event astounding.

“It is still heart stopping,” Bussa said. “It is still incredible.”

Submitted photo 

John Wolfram, right, was a young Navy SEAL frogman who played a key role in the recovery of the Apollo 11 astronauts when they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Critical recovery mission

John Wolfram never dreamed his strong swimming skills would link him to one of the most historic events of the 20th century.

The former Fort Atkinson man was the first person to see the Apollo 11 astronauts after they touched down in the Pacific Ocean.

Wolfram was a Navy SEAL frogman who had the critical job of stabilizing the space capsule so it would not sink after splashdown.

“How fortunate I was to be a part of it,” Wolfram said, recalling that he was only two years out of high school. “I knew that history was being made and to be part of it was a one-in-a-million chance.”

The strongest swimmer in the Navy’s recovery team, Wolfram lifted off the USS Hornet in a helicopter. Then he jumped into the ocean to attach a sea anchor to the module to keep it from bobbing up and down.

When he swam up to the module, he looked inside to see if the astronauts were OK.

Submitted photo 

John Wolfram holds a book he wrote about his Apollo 11 experience.

“They gave me a thumbs-up, and there were smiles on their faces,” Wolfram said.

Wolfram and other elite sailors had trained for weeks for the rescue mission.

Just back from Vietnam, Wolfram reflected his nonconformist streak by attaching showy flower decals to his wetsuit.

The flowers were the kind that often adorned Volkswagen buses of the day and “represented peace in a controversial era of unrest,” Wolfram said, referring to demonstrations in the U.S. against the Vietnam War.

But Navy frogmen were known to have fun.

“The SEAL team guys were independent-minded and mavericks in our days,” Wolfram explained.

On Apollo 10, the frogmen had placed a flower decal on the capsule’s hatch window. NASA gave them strict orders that there would be no tomfoolery on Apollo 11.

In the end, the young SEAL team carried out the crucial task of recovery without a hitch.

They made sure the fragile capsule was not punctured on the high seas and that the astronauts and the moon rocks they collected were safe.

Later, Wolfram served a second tour of duty in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart for being wounded under fire.

After Vietnam, “I searched my heart about eternity,” Wolfram said. “I had a dramatic conversion and was called to the ministry.”

Today, he lives in Powder Springs, Georgia, and oversees a number of domestic and international evangelism ministries.

Recently, he built a Bible school in central Vietnam to honor three high school classmates and five Navy SEALS who died in the war.

Wolfram recently returned to Fort Atkinson to talk about recovering the Apollo 11 astronauts.

On the 50th anniversary of the moon walk, he points out a lot of skeptics did not think it could be done.

“It shows you if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish most anything,” Wolfram said.

Angela Major 

Paul Rufledt of Janesville holds the replica handle in his garage Monday in Janesville.

A special building project

In his spare time, Paul Rufledt of Janesville is happiest when creating YouTube videos on how to make things.

Rufledt figures that Andrew Barth must be a fan of “Paul’s Garage” because Barth contacted him with an intriguing request.

He asked Rufledt to make a replica of the hatch handle of the Apollo 11 command module.

Barth works on Project Egress, an effort to build a life-size replica of Apollo 11’s hatch.

Adam Savage, host of the Science Channel’s “Savage Builds,” has partnered with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to create the replica for display.

Some 44 artists, including Rufledt, and fabrication shops from around the country have used various mediums and techniques to make the hatch’s components.

On July 18, Barth will help Savage assemble all the parts in front of the public at the Washington, D.C., museum.

The event is part of the Smithsonian’s 50th anniversary celebration of the first lunar landing.

Last week, Rufledt mailed his handle to the Smithsonian.

The 31-year-old was born 19 years after the Apollo 11 mission, but you would never know by his enthusiasm for the project.

“I’m rarely asked to make something,” Rufledt said. “It’s a recognition and cool.”

Barth, an engineering student, digitally modeled each of the hatch’s components using special software.

Then, he shared the 3D program files of the components with Rufledt and the other artists.

Rufledt chose to cast the aluminum handle in an oil-bonded sand.

He tested it for strength by hooking it to his homemade pottery wheel and picking it up. He also clamped it to the back of his 1988 Mazda and pulled the Mazda out of the garage.

Rufledt’s excitement about the project came in part from his interest in space travel, which is fueled by the Kerbal Space Program video game.

Angela Major 

The replica of the hatch handle for the Apollo 11 command module made by Janesville resident Paul Rufledt. A team is creating a replica of the Apollo 11’s hatch to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20.

The space-flight program attempts to simulate real-life rocket science.

Rufledt admits he has “blown up a lot of spaceships” learning how to get them to a planet and back.

“It gives you a new appreciation for space travel because the game is so hard,” he said.

When he is not making things, Rufledt works full time with his father, Dan, at D&P Appliance Repair.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum 

The hatch from the Apollo 11 command module will be replicated and displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Janesville’s Paul Rufledt re-created the handle that can be seen at the bottom left.

If Rufledt were in charge of NASA, he said he would push for more probes and fewer rockets.

“We would go back to exploring, not building rockets,” he said. “The private sector is doing well at building rockets.”

He firmly believes in the benefits of space travel and exploration.

“If you think exploring the moon was great,” Rufledt said, “imagine what we will find on Mars.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email

Home, sweet home: County report describes role housing plays in employment and education

A new countywide housing report indicates housing can perpetuate or worsen racial and ethnic disparities in income and opportunity.

Where people live can affect employment, impact education levels and restrict access to transportation, according to the report.

Janesville, Beloit and Rock County governments collaborated on the fair housing report analyzing local impediments to fair housing.

The report, compiled by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, is periodically required for communities that receive certain types of funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The report reveals issues intertwined with housing.

Across Rock County, for example, homeownership rates are starkly different between racial and ethnic groups.

In Beloit, 63% of white residents own their own homes compared to 33% of black residents. The divide is worse in Janesville, where 68% of whites and 22% of blacks own homes. Both communities have a homeownership rate of 43% among Latino residents.

Poverty rates break along racial and ethnic lines, too. The disparity in poverty between white, black and Latino households is considerably greater in Rock County than the U.S. average, according to the report.

That means more residents are spending more than half of their income on housing, considered a severe housing cost burden. Racial disparities continue in this category; more than half of Janesville’s Latino population has a severe housing cost burden.

Dorothy Harrell of the Beloit NAACP said local governments must address the gravity of the statistics. If people feel they have been discriminated against, their community needs to act on their complaints, she said.

Government apathy can leave people feeling hopeless, she said.

She mentioned the connection between housing, employment and other means of upward mobility for people of color.

“The city has to read that report and understand what is actually the truth about this community as far as minorities in this community making less than anybody,” Harrell said. “So, the ability not to have jobs that pay well means their housing will never be improved and their ability to buy homes is not going to improve.”

Kori Schneider Peragine, a senior administrator with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council and a lead author on the report, said taking steps to reverse segregation is required under the Fair Housing Act.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has made a recent push to show how housing locations can have lasting impacts on a person’s life, she said.

“When you think about segregation, it’s more than just living separately from each other based on race. It’s about the access we have to opportunity,” Schneider Peragine said. “Even if you have access to get housing but it’s only limited in a certain area of town, and that area doesn’t have the best schools or clean air or safe streets, then it’s still not fair housing because your full set of options is not available to you.”

Housing access

Janesville officials have discussed the city’s housing shortage for the past year. Beloit and the rest of Rock County have similar problems—people interested in moving to the area find few residential options.

When there aren’t enough places to live, some people inevitably are displaced and forced into subpar housing or into homelessness.

If that happens, the impact reaches beyond housing.

The report’s findings didn’t surprise Janesville city officials.

“The community opposition to multifamily housing, we see that on a regular basis when people start to talk about doing affordable housing developments,” Neighborhood and Community Services Director Jennifer Petruzzello said. “We experienced that with the proposal that is going through now north of the police department.”

That proposal is a 92-unit, three-level apartment building called River Flats. It would be located on part of the block bordered by Jackson and Franklin streets, Laurel Avenue, and Centerway.

Petruzzello said the project has received a key state tax credit necessary for its approval. The project will make its way to the city plan commission later this year, and likely would include a request for tax increment financing incentives.

To live in an affordable housing unit, tenants must make below a certain income level. If River Flats is approved, it would provide much-needed relief in a tight market, Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said.

“Our inadequate supply of affordable housing, clearly we know that’s a problem and have been attempting to deal with it,” Bedessem said. “That came out in the (June 2018) housing forum that we had some zoning restrictions that were prohibiting some additional development.”

Janesville’s goals outlined in the report include providing incentives for two or three affordable housing developments within the next five years. The city also plans to revise restrictive ordinances in 2020.

More affordable housing would help give more low-income residents a better place to live. But it’s only one rung on the ladder to homeownership, which creates greater financial stability.

Financial wherewithal

One of the report’s goals is to improve consumer education for renters and homebuyers. This effort should specifically target black and Latino communities, the report says.

Janesville sponsors free homebuyer workshops, but the report recommends the three municipalities increase education efforts.

Some of those efforts also could come from the private sector.

Francisca Reyna, a report committee member and vice president of business development and education at Blackhawk Bank, said she teaches about 140 classes a year. The classes cover homeownership, basic finances and the importance of credit.

Reyna has been a part of focus groups concentrating on financial challenges among racial groups.

In her experience, it’s not uncommon to see Latino and Asian residents who must build credit from scratch. Black residents usually have credit, but some need to repair poor scores, she said.

Blackhawk Bank has a program for people who need to establish or fix their credit. It places loan money into a certificate of deposit, and users make monthly payments to pay off the loan, Reyna said.

Becoming financially solvent isn’t the only way for someone to improve their housing situation, but it helps. It could allow someone to rent in a better neighborhood or purchase a starter home.

A better place to live could be a sparkplug for more life improvements. It could provide access to better jobs or enhance the quality of a child’s education.

Considering the local discrepancies revealed by the statistics, it will take a lot of work by public officials and others involved in the report to make major changes.

The report’s strategies for each municipality’s goals are small, but when taken together, they could have a significant effect on fair housing.

Reyna said she doesn’t want her time on the committee to be wasted. She hopes those involved continue to push for tangible changes after the report is finalized.

“I’ve sat on so many committees where you go around and provide input and then nothing happens afterwards. What’s the point of doing that?” Reyna said. “And I think that within that group, there’s a lot of people with really good intentions.

“If we come together and brainstorm, even if they implement one little thing, I think we can make progress.”

Anthony Wahl 

Ava Bradford takes a ride during a block party outside ECHO’s downtown Janesville building Saturday as the local charitable organization celebrated its 50th year.

Obituaries and death notices for July 14, 2019

Michael P. Clark

Carol Marie (Tremain) David

Karl J. Johnson

Mary Lou Lindroth

Doreen Miller

Joan L. Olson

Margaret Ontl

Linda J. Ozee

Anna C. Rumery

Carolyn J. Wentzel