September 1, 2011 in City

Clark: Mystery solved; Apollo 11 album was a Lions project

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

The Apollo 11 record was a fundraising project of Spokane Central Lions Club, and Dick Shanks, decades ago.
(Full-size photo)

As it turns out “The Flight of Apollo 11” – that rare Spokane-produced 1969 record album I bought for a buck in a garage sale – isn’t so rare after all.

Not if you know Dick Shanks, that is.

The 88-year-old businessman can definitely hook you up. Shanks still has stacks of unopened boxes of albums in a Spokane Valley storage locker.

He even let me take a look at his trove of dubious treasure.

“I kept giving them away for years,” said Shanks, “but I still have some.”

Make that about 400 of the unsold records that feature an artist’s depiction of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin staking Old Glory into the stark moonscape.

On Tuesday I put out a call for help in learning who was behind this album, which contains a collection of historical speeches and sound bites connected to America’s first voyage to the moon.

I was puzzled. Even our local vintage vinyl experts drew a blank about “Rostan Records,” the mysterious production company named on the front cover.

I love my readers.

My column had barely aired before the emails and phone calls came in. I was quickly steered to two wonderful guys: Shanks, the moneyman behind “The Flight of Apollo 11,” and Stan Witter, the guy who came up with the idea and put it all together.

This was no venture in capitalism.

The album was put out as a fundraising tool for Spokane’s Central Lions Club and other Lions chapters throughout the Inland Northwest and into Canada.

Shanks was president of Central Lions in 1968-’69. He said a new law banning lotteries had put the kibosh on the club’s timeworn methods of raising money for charity.

So Witter stepped in with a brainstorm that would make use of his own fascination with a tape recorder.

“I tape everything,” said Witter, 83.

Careful, Stan. That’s what got Nixon in trouble.

What Witter is talking about is his longtime hobby of recording important radio and TV news broadcasts. From his tapes, for example, he put together “Making of a President,” a production about John F. Kennedy.

So Witter had a library of material regarding our race to beat the Commies to the moon.

“I did it all at home with a basic recorder,” he said.

Then came July 20, 1969.

The date not only marks my first hangover, but our lunar landing, too.

Witter taped it all, from Armstrong performing the very first moonwalk to Mrs. Armstrong chatting up reporters in Houston.

Buoyed by America’s intergalactic supremacy, Witter and Shanks decided to go where few, if any, Lions Club members had ever gone before.

Into the record-making biz.

Witter took his tapes to Sound Recording, Spokane’s famous studio. Already a seasoned sports announcer and public speaker for Washington Water Power, Witter was perfect for supplying his album’s narration.

For the cover Witter turned to a friend and WWP coworker, Randall Johnson.

The artist gladly drew the aforementioned lunar scene, which added an automatic collectability factor. That’s because Johnson is the very same artist who created the famed WSU logo way back in 1936.

Why Rostan Records?

That’s an easy one.

Rosetta was the middle name of Witter’s wife. She died in 1995.

Stan is, well, you get the picture.

It took awhile to get everything done. Shanks said he even traveled to California to observe the run of 8,000 of the records being pressed.

By the time the album was distributed to other Lions chapters, he said, Apollo 12 had already blasted off.

Shanks grinned at the question about whether the album made any money.

Quite a character, that Shanks.

“That’s confidential” was the Shanks mantra to just about every question I tossed at him during our interview.

I’m pretty sure the CIA would be more forthcoming if I grilled them on state secrets.

But I’m no dummy. I’m pretty sure that whatever “success” the album generated for charity was directly due to the depth of this humble and gracious man’s pockets.

So I guess that makes “The Flight of Apollo 11” a rare thing after all.

Doug Clark is a columnist with The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.


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