Creating Alaska

Robert Roland Armstrong

City: Juneau  
District: Alaska-At-Large  
Occupation: Clergyman  
Born:
October 21, 1910 - Grapeville, Pennsylvania  
Death:
December 16, 1995 - Roswell, New Mexico  
Burial Location: Body donated to University of New Mexico Medical School  
Alaska Resident:
1940-66  
Convention Posts:

  • Member, Committee on Style and Drafting
  • Member, Committee on Preamble and Bill of Rights

Quote from the Constitutional Convention:

"You are Alaska's children. We bequeath to you a state that will be glorious in her achievements, a homeland filled with opportunities for living, a land where you can worship and pray, a country where ambitions will be bright and real, an Alaska that will grow with you as you grow. We trust you; you are our future. We ask you to take tomorrow and dream; we know that you will see visions we do not see. We are certain that in capturing today for you, you can plan and build. Take our constitution and study it, work with it in your classrooms, understand its meaning and the facts within it. Help others to love and appreciate it. You are Alaska's children. We bequeath to you the land, the mountains, the lakes, the skies. This is your land and we ask you to possess it."

-Reverend R. Rolland Armstrong, Day 76 of the Constitutional Convention


Education: Princeton Theological Seminary; Presbyterian Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky; Whitworth College

Public Offices and Organizations:

  • President, Sheldon Jackson College, 1956-66
  • Chairman, Alaska Board of Health, 1943-50
  • Chairman, Alaska Conference on Children and Youth
  • Delegate, White House Conference on Church and Youth, 1951, 56

Honors Received:

  • Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, Whitworth College - 1953
  • Honorary Doctorate of Humanities, University of Alaska - 1962

R. Rolland Armstrong, Former President of Sheldon Jackson, Dies at 85

Robert Rolland "Army" Armstrong, former president of Sheldon Jackson High School and Junior College, died Dec. 16 at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center in Roswell, N.M. He was 85.

Memorial services were held at First Presbyterian Church in Roswell on Dec. 19.

He was born Oct. 21, 1910, in Grapevine, Pa., to Robert and Charlotte (Kinnear) Armstrong.

He was a graduate of Grove City College, Grove City, Pa., and attended Princeton Seminary in Princeton, NJ., and Louisville Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

He was ordained in 1937 as a Presbyterian minister in Kentucky. In 1950 he was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. In 1962 he was granted a doctorate of humane letters by the University of Alaska in recognition of his dedicated service to Alaska and the education of Alaskan young people.

He and Katherine Ratcliff, a nurse in Kentucky's Frontier Nursing Service, were married on Dec. 3, 1938.

From 1938 until 1940 he was a Sunday school missionary for the Board of National Missions in Kentucky and Michigan. In June 1940, the Armstrongs moved to Fairbanks, where he became minister of First Presbyterian Church. In September, 1942 he became minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage, where he served a large civilian and military community during World War II.

The Armstrongs moved to Juneau in 1950, when he assumed the duties of field representative for the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church. He served until 1956, traveling by bus, plane, dog sled, rail, car and boat throughout Alaska.

He was elected as a delegate-at-large to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955, and worked with 54 other Alaskans in writing a constitution that was essential to the eventual granting of statehood to Alaska in 1959.

He was president of Sheldon Jackson from 1956 until 1966, when he and his wife moved to Fort Defiance, Ariz., where he served as presbyter and associate executive of the Synod of Arizona and Presbytery of Northern Arizona an the Navajo Reservation,

"He said he left a good-sized chunk of his heart and life behind in Alaska, his home for 26 years," one of his daughters wrote.

He became executive presbyter and associate executive for the new Synod of the Southwest Presbytery for Sierra Blanca in Roswell from 1972 to 1977.

After his retirement, he continued to serve New Mexico churches on an interim basis.

Always active in community service, he was a member of the Alaska Territorial Board of Health and the first Library Board of Anchorage. He also was a founder of the Alaska Council of Churches.

He was preceded in death by Katherine in 1980, and by his second wife, Margaret Blackstone Armstrong, in 1994.

He is survived by two daughters: Allison Keef, and her husband, Ralph Keef, of Bangor, Maine, and their children, Cheryl Martin of. Belleville, Ont., Canada, Brad Keef of College Station, Texas, and Pamela Keef of Bangor, and Charlene Frederick and her husband, Ken Smith, of Roswell.

His stepchildren are Janie Blackstone and her husband, Ron Gregson, of Denver, Colo., and her children, Brad and Claire Knepper, and Bill Blackstone and his wife, Nancy Blackstone, of Baltimore, Md, and their children, Margaret and Rebecca, and his stepdaughter, Robin.

Rev. Armstrong donated his body to the University of New Mexico Medical School, "a final act of stewardship on his part," his family said.

Memorial contributions may be made to the R. Rolland Armstrong Fund for Hispanic Ministries, Presbytery of Sierra Blanca, P.O. Box 1434, Roswell. N.M. 88202.

Source: Sitka Sentinel – January 10, 1996