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Being open to God’s plans

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Was it blind chance that brought Judy Armstrong to Roswell? She would tell you no, it wasn’t. It was the hand of God guiding her through life.

Judy Armstrong

“I was born in St. Louis,” she said. “My dad was a salesman. His employer wanted him to move somewhere in the west. He wanted to go to Texas, but Mother didn’t want to. During the war, they’d been stationed in south Texas, which is humid and hot. She said no, she wasn’t going to Texas. So Dad put the atlas down in front of her. Mom closed her eyes and her finger landed on Roswell.”

Moving to Roswell proved to be a unique experience.

“Mom was a nurse,” Armstrong said, “and she took care of Walt Whitman’s niece. Eventually, Miss Whitman came to live with us in our house. She was in a wheelchair. When we planned to move, Mom said we’d have to take her back to the nursing home. She said, ‘You’re not taking me anywhere, I’m going to New Mexico with you.’

“We got a station wagon and put her on a mattress in the back and then we got another car and we drove into Roswell. We arrived during the worst dust storm ever. This was in 1956. Lots of streets didn’t have pavement. The dust was horrible.

“Our furniture got snow-bound in Oklahoma, so we used sheets for drapes. The next morning, the sky was clear and you could see the snow on the mountains to the west. It was beautiful. Then the planes flew over and knocked the clock off the wall. Eventually, Dad put the clock on the table and said it was to stay there.”

As a child, Armstrong had three dreams. The first was to be a teacher.

“I went to Kansas and taught for a couple of years,” she said. “It was a wonderful first teaching experience. I taught English, speech and drama. We put on plays and went to a speech contest across the state. They took second place, which for a little town, was exciting. When we had an assembly later, the guys on the football team picked me up and carried me across the stage. I kept telling them to put me down.”

With no family to keep her in Kansas, she returned to Roswell.

“I got a job in the Highschool Equivalency Program,” Armstrong said. “I taught for 10 years there. It was wonderful because I got to know a lot about Native Americans working with them. When the government stopped funding it, I went to work with Len Cheney at Roswell Printing.

“Ralph Fresquez had worked with me at the HEP. He told me the library needed an assistant director. I went to see Mrs. Gallaway and when I met her, we talked for almost three hours. I got the job. I really enjoyed the library.”

Armstrong’s love of teaching saw her eventual return to Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. While there, she was encouraged to take on leadership roles.

“I became head of developmental studies,” she said. “Then they were looking for a new dean — friends told me I should do it. I’d never intended to do any of that, but it was a wonderful experience. When Levi Strauss closed, we got to help those people develop new careers. We were so happy to help them. When I think back about the impact the college has had on this town, it’s amazing. ENMU-R is an excellent school with excellent teachers and a diverse program. I’m very proud to have been a small part of it.”

Armstrong was in her 30s when her other two dreams came true.

“When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher, and be married with six kids,” she said. “As it turned out, I was a teacher and I married a guy who had six kids. When I saw Hal, I thought, ‘No!’ I was 33 and had decided it wasn’t going to happen. Then he walked into the church and the light hit him like God was saying ‘Here he is.’ Later we went to a dance. We danced every dance and we sang every song. It was 2 a.m. before we got home because we went for coffee after. Then I didn’t hear from him. I thought maybe I’d misread the situation. Finally, he called me when he got his voice back and said he had a terrible cold. So I took him some soup.”

Armstrong lost her husband in 2003. Even in her grief, she recognized a gift from God that helped her find the strength to move on.

“A few months after Hal died,” she said, “I came home from school and there was a Post-it note on the bedroom floor. It said, ‘I love you – Hal’ It made me break down in tears. I must have missed it when I’d swept under the bed. But whatever happened, I’ve led a blessed life and I’m grateful to God. I hope I’m being the person he wants me to be.”

Armstrong lives a full and exciting life. She serves where she can and she tries to always be ready to go where God sends her. Her faith has kept her motivated.

“There are times when things set you back,” she said. “Don’t give up. When I lost Hal, it was an unexpected blow. Don’t stop. Those walls we run up against are temporary. I firmly believe God has a plan for everybody and if you’re not open to that plan, you might not get where God wants you to be. You have to be open. Every experience you have teaches you something. They culminate where God has a plan for us to be. I thank God for every minute of my life, even the bad minutes.”