Parade marshal shows love of life, sense of humor
July 16, 2014
Rolly (Roland) Armstrong has made such an impact in his 14 years as a resident of Cathlamet that he was asked to represent the community as grand marshal in Saturday’s Bald Eagle Day parade.
“I have zero experience at being interviewed,” Rolly said on Monday morning.
He also has zero experience in being grand marshal, so it’s a big week for him.
According to Ashley Turner, the director of the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce, 25 people were nominated for grand marshal this year. Rolly was nominated 17 times.
Rolly was the youngest of four boys.
“I was the baby,” he said, “which meant that I got put in the tire and rolled down the hill or thrown off the coal shed with a sheet to see if I would fly. My brothers were wonderful though. They were very protective, they just had weird ideas.”
After Rolly’s first five years, in the great state of Kansas, the family began a shift west.
“At the foothills of the Rockies,” Rolly said, “we had a little farm that we were starving on. Mom and Dad decided that the streets were paved in Oregon so off we went.”
At 10, he found himself in a completely new and exciting situation. He had gotten used to the one room schoolhouse and recess ruled by him and his three brothers. Suddenly there were a lot more students and his brothers were at different schools.
Rolly handled the new situation and the new people in his own way. He started by calling every boy he met Sam.
They started calling him Sam. And after a little while he knew their names too.
He has nothing but love for the people who became his classmates. They were Crater High School’s Class of 1958.
“They weren’t wild, but they were a little crazy,” Rolly laughed.
Rolly reminisces about the Sadie Hawkins dances. One year, he wasn’t just Sam, he was Marryin’ Sam, a character from the old L’il Abner comic strip. He cut one of his shirts to be like his namesake and walked around with a bare midriff.
Naturally, he got called into the principal’s office. It was 1958. And somehow he talked his way out of a trip home to change. The administrators let him stay like that for the rest of the day and told him he would have to take a different day off.
“I was so cute,” Rolly said, “they let me off with a stern remark.”
The girls didn’t ask the fellows to the Sadie Hawkins dance that year. Instead, these gentle young ladies went on the warpath, seeking out the boys who thought it good sense to hide. When a girl found the boy she wanted, she had to take hold of him and drag him across a finish line. And if she got a boy across that finish line, he had to take her to the dance.
“It was a riot, “Rolly said. “All the friendships fell away. Your heart was in your throat. Am I going to be trapped? Am I going to get dragged across the finish line?”
Rolly got to officiate at a few mock weddings that day, as Marryin’ Sam.
“I hope they didn’t practice all the benefits of marriage,” he grinned.
Rolly met his wife Ginny in 1964. If she’d been there that wild Sadie Hawkins day, he’d have crossed that line willingly.
“She made the mistake of coming to southern Oregon where I was on the prowl, “Rolly said. “I was a trouble maker, a mischief maker. She was there with a couple friends of hers and I was acting kind of foolish, wanting her attention.”
He got it.
“She called me over to the car and dumped a Coke in my lap,” he said. “I thought, I’m going to marry this girl.”
Four months later he found a real Marryin’ Sam.
“It was that quick,” Rolly said. “She had just totally overwhelmed me. She was so generous and so loving you just simply couldn’t resist her. And so independent.”
They were married for 47 years and had four children: Steve, Mark, Kirsten and Beth.
“She passed away in August of last year,” Rolly said. “We’re coming up against a very hard date for me. So when I was chosen for grand marshal it was such a huge shock, completely unexpected and done behind my back.”
The loss also makes the honor bittersweet. He and Ginny were active in the community and she would have been thrilled. Rolly was then a member of the board at the Chamber. He and Ginni came up with the Sidewalk Art Contest that now takes place the day before the Bald Eagle festivities.
Ginny was a preschool teacher for 25 years and knew how to interact with the kids, so the art contest was right down her alley.
“She went through Love and Logic, a philosophy and program for educators and parents raising kids, three or four times, and it worked so well on the children,” Rolly said. “It worked well on husbands, too. If you do Love and Logic, your husband has no chance at ever having a life again, because he’s going to do exactly what you want him to do.
“It’s about being kind,” he added. “No matter what you have to be kind. That was Ginny’s mantra. She was always kind.”
Rolly went back to school at the age of 50 with Ginny’s support. His career in auto parts had made him unhappy and it was time for a change. After getting a degree in Behavioral Health and Science at Linfield, he and Ginny operated an adult foster home for the chronically mentally ill in St. Helens.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said.
In 2000, he applied for a job with Health and Human Services in Wahkiakum County. Chris Holmes hired him and put him to work as an employment specialist/case manager.
“What a jewel Chris Holmes is,” Rolly said. “He gave me all the autonomy I needed to do my job. And then if we came up against an obstacle that was too large we put our heads together and worked side by side. He was a wonderful boss.”
Rolly is retired now, but he still keeps busy. He still provides support for people in need and he enjoys art. He admits to doing a little pen and ink on occasion, trying his hand at birds or landscapes.
“I have an interesting life now that I’ve retired, Rolly said. “I have more variety. I’m enjoying people. I can’t go anywhere without enjoying people. That is the advantage that Cathlamet has given me.”