It is amazing to discover how our life stories intertwine, no matter how divergent our histories. This week’s story intersects with my own in a way that brought it especially close to home.
The first time I met Ed Armstrong was at a meeting of SAD 22’s Education Foundation, in which I was a new member. His characteristic attire of bow tie and sweater vest caught my attention, but even more prominent were his spirited optimism and charismatic presence.
Ed is a collector of stories and histories. One of his primary initiatives on our board is to gather and record oral histories from senior citizens in our district. As a story gatherer myself, I was immediately attracted to Ed’s mission.
“I want to capture the memories and thoughts of these seniors in our community,” Ed said. “They have so much to offer, and when they’re gone, their histories are gone too.”
History connects me to Ed in another way even more directly. In the same old 1860’s farmhouse, each of us began life in Maine, about 30 years apart.
When my family moved to Hampden nine years ago, we found intriguing artifacts in an old barn — padded wooden dowels on a rack and an old sign in the rafters. We learned that the building once housed the Highlands Press Print Shop, which published the “Hampden Observer” and “Northeast Horseman.”
Those dusty relics linked me to Ed Armstrong’s story.
Ed grew up in South Boston. He was a toddler and the youngest of seven children when his father died in 1937. The older kids would often go out in the evening, Ed told me, “and it was just Mom and me.” The two of them laughed a lot while she made do with very little. Ed remembers her rolling out dough with a glass milk bottle and sewing socks with needle and thread.
Eventually, Ed’s family moved into a government housing project, where they had a shower, hot water and a refrigerator for the first time. In spite of life’s hardships, his mother always was an optimist.
At age14, Ed entered the work force. After days at the old Boston Trade High School, he worked for the Boston Herald-Traveler as a messenger in the afternoons. Ed majored in printing, and he has been in the same field ever since.
“Printing has transformed continuously over the years, and I’ve seen it all,” he said.
He learned to use hand type and hot metal printing presses at trade school. Ed had risen to retail advertising salesman by the time he left the Herald-Traveler in 1965 and became the advertising manager for a chain of weeklies. There, he sold ad space during the day and did his own “paste-ups” after supper at night.
After college and marriage, Ed and his wife Mary moved to Chicago, where Ed sold the photo typesetting equipment that was replacing hot metal in the early 1960s. But they missed the East Coast.
In 1970, Ed and his family left Chicago for Hampden, where they purchased a print shop and its two publications. Those old dowels in my barn once rolled out the publications that Ed created and sold.
Another opportunity arose in 1979. Ed purchased Snowman Printing, a small business that still used hot metal type and had 2½ employees.
“I was going back to my roots,” he said.
Though officially retired, he still works virtually full time at Snowman Printing, now a thriving digital printing and mailing business.
“I can’t retire,” he told me. “I get feeling too jiggy. Other than when I look in the mirror, I still feel like I’m only 35.”
Ed is the quintessential people person, a quality he attributes to his mother. He has passed on his enthusiasm and philosophies to everyone in his workplace, and you feel it the moment you walk in the door.
“We’ve got wonderful people here, and they all ‘get it.’”
They all share a commitment, in other words, to making people feel like they matter.
“Customer satisfaction,” exclaimed Ed, spreading his arms wide. “Without customers, you have no business.”
Sitting in Ed’s office, I felt like I was in the presence of an inspirational speaker. It was no surprise when I found out that he graduated from a Massachusetts college of oratory called The Staley School of the Spoken Word. Snippets of wisdom poured forth:
“Sense of humor is essential.”
“Don’t be afraid. If you like it, do it.”
“Don’t be critical. It’s self-defeating. Be constructive and encouraging.”
“Laughter is essential.”
So much wealth in words — and it all came my way because of some dusty old relics in the recesses of my barn.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at email@example.com.