William H. Armstrong was born on April 23, 1932 in Louisville, Ohio to William and Hazel Armstrong. He married Gloria (Cassler) Armstrong on June 7, 1953. Their loving and inspiring marriage lasted for 61 years until Gloria’s death in 2014.
In 1954, Bill graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. degree in philosophy. He received his Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in 1957, after which he was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ. In 1957, he and Gloria moved to the inner city of Philadelphia to serve at Calvary United Church of Christ. He oversaw the integration of a predominantly white church to a fully integrated church. One story stands out: when one of the first African-Americans expressed an interest in joining Calvary Church, some of the white congregants dissented, to which their pastor replied: “Either she stays, or I go.”
Bill and Gloria served Calvary Church for nine years. When Bill and Gloria considered opportunities to serve more affluent churches, they felt it was their calling to pastor their beloved friends and parishioners in more troubled neighborhoods. In 1964, Bill earned a Masters in Sacred Theology from the Lutheran Theological Seminary.
In the 1960s Bill was asked to join the newly formed Peace Corps in an administrative capacity for five years in two countries. He was the Associate Director of the Peace Corps in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968. In 1968, he became the first Director of the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), just as Eswatini celebrated its independence from Great Britain. Bill and Gloria did everything as a team, including raising their four children in Africa.
In 1971, the Armstrongs returned to the United States, where Bill began his service at his second and last church, Burton Congregational Church in Burton, Ohio. He retired from the ministry in 1997. After living in parsonages or government-provided homes for their married lives, Bill and Gloria bought their first home in Bay Village, Ohio where they lived until Gloria’s death in 2014.
Bill had a deep and abiding love of history. He researched usually obscure, but fascinating people. Bill published ten books, including biographies of David Tannenberg, Ely S. Parker, Edward Parmalee Smith and Father Taylor, as well as books about the ministry, and a collection of Ethiopian proverbs.
Following Gloria’s death, Bill moved to Avon, Ohio where he continued his ministry, showing his love to all the people who crossed his path. Up to the very end, Bill cast the light of God’s love on all he met.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents, his beloved wife Gloria, his sister Joan Denny, his brothers-in-law Julian Denny and Myrton Jones, and his daughter-in-law Helen Haggerty. He is survived by his children Lonson (Lucy), Elaine (Erick), Lester (Janell), and Bill, Jr. (Erin); his grandchildren, Conner (Rachel), Louisa, Cara, Graham, Olivia, Faith, and Isabelle; and his sister Mary Alice Jones and his brother Jack Armstrong.
A memorial service will be held on June 11, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. at West Park United Church of Christ at 3909 Rocky River Drive, Cleveland, Ohio 44111. A reception with light refreshments will follow the service. Donations, in lieu of flowers, may be sent to the United Church of Christ’s Global Ministries Child and Elder Sponsorship Program at https://www.ucc.org/global-ministries-child-and-elder-sponsorship-program/.