By Judith Munson —
The constant pinging emanating from our phones means we’re living in the most connected era in history, except studies keep telling us we’re lonelier than ever. So, what are we missing? Local newscaster Heather Armstrong reminds us how taking just a few extra moments and resisting the urge to rush through our day might make someone else’s.
“People call the newsroom, and they just want to be heard,” says Armstrong. “And you know as long as they’re not yelling at us or calling us names, we’ll sit there and listen. You never know if you’re the only person that caller will speak to that day or even this week.”
As an anchor at WXOW News 19, Armstrong gives people a voice with her series “Everyone Has a Story.” It spotlights people from around the Coulee Region who otherwise wouldn’t make the news but can still provide us with worthwhile life lessons.
We wanted to know what motivates Armstrong to know people beyond the 140-character level, how she feels about life in her adopted hometown, and how she ended up “mom” to 31 animals without really trying.
L.I.N.K. You grew up in New York City and worked in Los Angeles. Obviously the Coulee Region is a change, but you’ve been here eight years now.
Armstrong: The bluff and the Mississippi are just magical. The people are so amazing. I think it takes only a few moments for people to know what you’re about and then that’s it; there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for you.
I’ve had neighbors tell me, “We saw you had a donkey out and we got him back in for you.” Our mail guy fixed our mailbox—like post and all! Others have dropped off apples for our animals.
I enjoy that there’s not a lot of traffic, pollution, and you can have a little piece of land. We have a lot of animals, so I love that.
We have three dogs, five cats, 15 goats, two donkeys and six pigs. They’re all rescues. People find out you’re in the country, and all of a sudden I’m getting requests from people who found out this pet or that pet just wasn’t working for them. My ultimate goal is to operate a rescue now. I didn’t plan on this, but I love animals.
L.I.N.K. And your love of animals has extended to your community service work …
Armstrong: Yes, I help several animal-welfare organizations by either donating or volunteering my time or helping others who can’t afford care.
I also serve on the Aptiv board and will never stop. I have a brother with Prader-Willi syndrome, so this work is especially meaningful to me. I grew up being very protective of him. I used to get so defensive when people were rude to him, but one day I stopped seeing those people. I started caring only about how I treated my brother—which was with compassion—and suddenly I noticed other people started doing the same.
L.I.N.K. So we get what we give, as in we need to model how we want others to treat us?
Armstrong: Yes, there are so many people with no family, no friends—who live on disability and have no one checking on them. We need to remember that when we’re dealing with people who may not be at their best.
L.I.N.K. It sounds like your parents raised you and your siblings well. What was their secret?
Armstrong: My parents were amazing people. I remember once when we were robbed—by the only kid on our street who didn’t have a father and who for some reason hated my older brother.
But my father was so quick to forgive. He was a good, honorable man. Both sets of my grandparents came through Ellis Island from Ireland. His mother, a single mom, worked three jobs to put him through Catholic school, but without a father, he fell into a gang for a while.
So he always—always—said, “You don’t know what that person’s going through.”
There were so many people at my mom’s funeral I didn’t know. They told me, “Your mom was always there for me,” or “Your mom gave us clothes” or “She paid for something when we needed help.”
That’s how I grew up. I grew up with a ton of kids from the neighborhood. I come from a big family with six kids. I always had good people around me. We looked out for each other.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
We’re never certain what the future holds, but we hope the Coulee hills and bluffs retain their hold on Armstrong, who has happily settled down with her husband on their small farm. The two are also expecting their first child in the spring.
“My uncle, a great man—he worked for the secret service and I always respect his opinion—said to me, ‘You need to think long and hard before leaving here. People work and save their entire lives to retire to a place like this.’”