MUSCATINE – Former Muscatine Community College President Jeff Armstrong is being remembered as a smart man who was an effective mentor and champion of the college's international programs.
Armstrong died in his home Monday, January 11. He worked at the college for 33 years, retiring in 2014.
Armstrong served as president from 2009 to 2011, and previously held roles as community education specialist, dean of instruction, executive director of Resource Development & Innovation, vice chancellor of Facilities and vice chancellor of Instruction.
Dean of Instruction Jeremy Pickard said Armstrong was a boss who helped him reach new levels in his career and a friend.
“(Armstrong) hired me as a 24-year-old faculty member in the Business department. He was the person who ran the hiring committee that hired me, and now I’m finishing my 20th year here at the college,” Pickard said.
Pickard said Armstrong was a mentor as well as a boss.
“I owe a lot of my professional growth to him, because of his mentorship, his wisdom, his counseling, and him challenging me.”
Pickard considers Armstrong one of the brightest, “if not the brightest," people he has ever worked with.
“He was just wicked smart, and good at putting things together, seeing things and being able to just navigate some of those things,” he said. “It was just fun to have a front row seat to that. He could see around the corner in a way that most people can’t, and he would be able to put things together in a way that a lot of people couldn’t.”
Pickard also appreciated Armstrong’s honesty, as well as how direct he could be. “You never had to guess where you were at with him,” he said. “If he didn’t approve of something you were doing, he would tell you, but not in a mean way. I really appreciated that about him.”
Armstrong was also known for his travels abroad, specifically Afghanistan where he served as senior manager for associate degrees, senior manager for academic leadership, and senior international advisor to the Ministry for Higher Education.
Wanting to be involved with helping develop higher education in other countries, Armstrong also traveled to India, Iraq, South Africa, Namibia, Guyana, Thailand, Ukraine, Jordon and Georgia, where he was part of many different projects. He also served as Provost of Northeast Iowa Community College from 2014 to 2015.
“He had a lot to do with the international programs at MCC,” Pickard said, “and that’s one of the ways that I got involved here.” During one of Armstrong’s grant-funded projects, Pickard had asked if he could participate in the project as well. Without hesitation, Armstrong told him he could come on the next trip.
“As I was walking away, I was like ‘I’m not sure what I just signed up for’, but that was just how it was with him,” Pickard said. “He was looking for people who wanted to figure things out, and who liked the challenge of doing new things.”
Armstrong was someone who not only "thought outside the box," but didn’t think there was a "box" to stay within, Pickard said.
“He was one of those guys who was really a creative mind.”
Beyond that creativity and his adventurous nature, however, was a desire to help create community colleges in other countries. For Armstrong, his passion for teaching students and giving others opportunities for education went far beyond Muscatine.
“There’s a lot of great stories about him and his international travels… He was just willing to go places and do things that most people wouldn’t,” Pickard said. “That was his love, just to try and educate everyone. He also wanted to take employees and students, and either bring internationals to the college or take us to other places in the world, so we could bring those experiences back to Muscatine.”
For his efforts, Armstrong earned the Eastern Iowa Community College (EICC) Chancellor’s Award. He was also honored with a Hall of Honor Award from Muscatine High School, the Phi Theta Kappa Distinguished Administrator Award and an honorary doctorate by Ivan-Franko Pedagogical University in Drohobych, Ukraine.
While his work internationally certainly had a big impact on MCC, Pickard said this was only one aspect of his legacy at the college, and that he impacted the college in a lot of different ways.
“He’s someone I cherish as a very dear friend. He was a great boss, he challenged me a lot, and I think he really saw the potential in me long before I could ever see it myself,” Pickard said. “I wouldn’t have grown professionally without him.”
As he sits in the Dean of Instruction’s seat, the same seat that Armstrong sat in when they first met, Pickard hopes to not only work as hard as his mentor did, but also pass Armstrong’s wisdom on and give others the same opportunities that he was given. “I think that’s the legacy of Jeff Armstrong here, at least through me.”
A private Celebration of Life will be held for Armstrong at a later date. Donations in Armstrong’s memory can be made to the MCC scholarship fund by calling 563-288-6001.