June 2013 Volunteer of the Month
June is always a special month. We look forward to the school year ending, summer beginning, and of course the ALS Express bike ride. It is also the month we celebrate Father’s Day. This June, we recognize one particular father who has been doing his part to defeat ALS for over 15 years, all in honor of his son.
Our June Volunteer of the Month, Bill Armstrong will be the first to tell you that he and his wife Joan didn’t know anything about ALS when their son, Jeffrey William Armstrong, Esq. was diagnosed with the disease in 1997. Jeffrey was living in Boston at the time and so his parents weren’t seeing the disease every day. While ALS was impacting their family, they were still viewing it from a distance.
One of their friends recommended that Bill and Joan call the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter to learn more. They began going to the newly diagnosed meetings and their understanding of ALS progressed quickly. Bill says he wished that he was a wealthy man so that he could just write a $100,000 check, but instead of writing out all of those zeroes, he organized a golf outing at Whitemarsh Country Club to raise money for the Chapter. Unfortunately, Jeffrey’s ALS also progressed quickly and he lost his battle a few months later in the spring of 1998.
Jeffrey William Armstrong, Esq. passed away from ALS at the age of 38, about the same age that Lou Gehrig himself died nearly six decades earlier.
While Jeffrey’s battle against ALS had ended, his father’s did not. There were two memorials for Jeffrey, one in Boston, and one at St. Jude of the Nativity in Lafayette Hill, PA. At that memorial, a few of the cousins approached Bill and asked if he thought they could still play at Whitemarsh. Bill said “I’d like to do an outing every year if you would come.” And those cousins have come, every year since then.
Bill has organized the Jeff Armstrong Memorial Golf Fundraiser for 15 years now, raising tens of thousands of dollars to benefit families just like his who learned too quickly how devastating ALS can be to both the person living with it and the loved ones who rally by their side. Many of the people who attended that first golf outing still attend today, including
some of Bill’s friends from his service in the Marines.
“It is wonderful that this group is so loyal,” said Bill. “Some of the donations have been spectacular along the way. It means a great deal to raise money for research and to honor the memory of my son and I am encouraged by the progress being made at the Chapter.”
In addition to organizing his own event, Bill has volunteered at the Chapter in other ways. Before the Chapter office moved to Ambler, he and his wife volunteered in the office. He has also volunteered at many of the chapter golf outings, driving Curt Schilling around in his golf cart and later driving Greg Gross as well. Bill and Joan were recognized for their volunteer work in 2001, but unfortunately, Joan passed away that same month. Their work not only made an impact on our Chapter, but made an impression on their whole family, who continues to work towards the same goal: creating a world without ALS. Bill’s daughter Joan raises money in the Ocean City Board…Walk to Defeat ALS® and his granddaughters walk in memory of their dad through the Boston Walk to Defeat ALS® as members of Armstrong’s Angels.
Bill also continues to volunteer his time at Paoli Hospital, where he is able to bring even more awareness to ALS and direct people to Chapter resources if they need them.
When you talk to Bill about his years of work raising money and awareness to fight ALS, you learn pretty quickly that he isn’t one to pat himself on the back. All credit goes to his son, who left such an impact in his life that everybody that knew him continues to work hard in his memory.
“When Jeff took the law boards, he scored in the 97th percentile,” said Bill, happily reminiscing about his son’s accomplishments. “He was great at golf and was a second degree black belt in karate. Jeff was pretty good at everything that he did.”
Jeff didn’t become good by himself. He got there with the support of his wife, his sister, his daughters, his cousins, his friends, and a dad who continues to honor his son.
Happy Father’s Day to Bill Armstrong and to all of the fathers whose love, time, and support get us ever closer to creating a world without ALS.