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Moscow, ID 83844-3080 

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Teacher, Artist, Wrangler

Terry Armstrong was not only a beloved educator, he also was a talented artist.

By Cheryl Reed-Dudley

Terry Armstrong in the 60'sEmeritus Professor Terry Armstrong made a mark on many College of Education alumni, friends and colleagues. Most would agree that he was one-of-a-kind: a combination of brilliant professional and mischievous kid. On Jan. 23, 2014, he died after a short battle with cancer. He was 78.

Armstrong’s long career at the UI began the summer of 1963, when he arrived to study for his master’s degree. Noting his exceptional talent, COE Dean Everett Samuelson invited Armstrong back to UI to complete a doctoral program in 1967.

“I was already pretty cocky about getting a master’s degree,” Armstrong had said in the past, “and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to continue my education, but I finally took another step closer to the UI with the prompts of Dean Sam.”

rooster painting by Terry ArmstrongShortly after the invitation, Armstrong and his family moved to Moscow. His long list of awards and his service to his community and profession throughout his teaching career are impressive and noteworthy. These accolades are listed in his memoir, “Wrangling Snakes and Other Reminiscences of an Idaho Teacher.”

Armstrong worked at the UI until 1996, then maintained an emeritus faculty office in the COE and visited campus frequently. His hallmark greeting of, “Are we perky today?” resonated down the hallways long after he retired. He frequently visited UI friends to collect pennies for his Found Money Fund of Idaho or just to catch up.

Terry Armstrong in the 50'sArmstrong was born April 24, 1935, in Twin Falls, where he grew into a 6-foot-8 skinny kid who loved to play basketball. He graduated in 1954 and thought of playing college ball. During a tournament, he met UI coach Charles Finely and was certain he would receive a scholarship. However, in 1954 Finley resigned and Armstrong accepted a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Mississippi instead. There, he majored in biology and developed an intense interest in the natural history of reptiles and amphibians.

 During his junior year, he began to change.

“I learned to chew tobacco, rarely did my laundry and built up my tough-guy persona by snake wrangling,” he said. He recalled one afternoon driving to an area known for its reptiles and finding a large rattlesnake. “The animal was over five feet long and had recently shed its skin.”

After precariously stuffing the five-pound snake into a gallon jar in front of several bystanders, he earned the title of snake wrangler.

Native American painting by Terry ArmstronIn 1958, Armstrong graduated and moved back to Salmon to teach science and coach basketball, bringing with him more than 30 snake specimens. In 1960, he married Pat Havemann, a medical technologist. In 1967, the couple moved to Moscow with their daughter, Mary. Armstrong began teaching while working on his doctorate of education, and was tenured by the time he was 40.

Armstrong was assigned as executive assistant to UI President Richard Gibb from 1978-89, but afterward returned to teaching until he retired. While working in Gibb’s office in 1981, Armstrong found three pennies on the sidewalk — the first contributions to his Found Money Fund of Idaho that is now worth more than $250,000. Armstrong was an active community member and a talented painter, using it as a way of self-expression. His favorite paintings were impressions of the ranchers, miners, loggers and Old West characters of the Salmon area. Several of his paintings grace the walls of buildings on campus and around the Moscow area.