Tom Armstrong has been selected by the Park Falls Area Chamber of Commerce for the honor of parade marshal at this year’s Flambeau Rama parade, set for noon on Sunday, Aug. 4 in downtown Park Falls.
Armstrong’s many years at downtown anchor business First National Bank — now Forward Bank — as well as decades worth of coaching multiple high school and youth sports teams, and his work on the Park Falls Athletic Complex Improvement Committee, which has raised over $100,000 for improvements in recent years, were all reasons for his selection, according to the Chamber.
Armstrong is a 1979 graduate of Lincoln High School in Park Falls, the salutatorian of the final graduating class from that school. He attended UW-Stout and Mankato State University in the early 1980s, playing baseball for both schools and earning himself a spot in the Stout Athletic Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Stout with a degree in applied math, he entered the world of finance, bouncing around from banks in Ashland, Washburn, and Tomah before finally returning home to Park Falls in 1990 to take a job as a loan officer at First National Bank. He graduated from the Graduate School of Banking at UW-Madison, and eventually became bank president and served in that role for over a decade before the bank transitioned to Forward Bank this spring.
Armstrong is also serving his second three-year term on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, one of the Reserve banks that help set federal monetary policymaking. He formerly served on the board of directors of the Community Bankers of Wisconsin from 2010-2014.
“I’m a numbers guy,” Armstrong disclosed in a recent interview. “I originally wanted to be a math teacher. I had a minor in computer science and I was supposed to be a computer geek. Now, the hardest part of my job is new technology.”
Any thought he had on becoming a teacher likely came from his father, Tom Armstrong, Sr., who was a teacher at the Park Falls School District for nearly 30 years. The senior Tom was widely known for his sense of humor, and his ability to connect with kids.
But, one can hardly mention the two Toms without bringing up baseball.
For the last 47 years, the Park Falls and now Chequamegon High School baseball team has known but one name for its head coach: Tom Armstrong.
First, there was Tom Armstrong Sr., the winningest coach in Park Falls High School history at the time of his sudden death in 2000. At age 62 he was two weeks away from the start of his 28th season as head coach when he suffered a fatal heart attack during a game of racquetball. Tom Sr. posted an overall record of 398-254 with eight conference championships, and four state appearances, including a state runner-up team in 1987.
Tom Jr., who had been a volunteer assistant baseball coach for many years under his father, took over the Park Falls Cardinals baseball team in the spring of 2000. Over the last 20 seasons, Armstrong is 340-140 with seven conference titles, 13 regional titles, and three state appearances, including state runner-up in 2000 and 2003. Armstrong has also coached the high school summer program for 20 years, the city summer league for nine years, and served as president of the Park Falls youth ball program for over a decade. He has been named conference coach of the year seven times, district coach of the year twice, and selected as Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Classic Coach two times.
Armstrong also coached junior high basketball and club basketball for years, eventually running the girls varsity team for 13 seasons, where his teams strung together a trio of sectional appearances from 2006-2008.
“Coaching two sports is nuts. If I did that over again my wife would kill me,” he laughed.
After Tom Sr. passed in 2000, the city christened the baseball field Armstrong Field in memory of the coach that founded a serious baseball regime starting in 1972. Since that time, Tom Jr. has carried that baseball tradition into a new century — not only with his teams performing on the field but with his auxiliary support surrounding the sport. The result has been a series of teams that have been a lot of fun for the community to watch, making this year’s parade theme — Take Me Out to the Ball Game — an apt choice.
“Baseball has always been my passion,” Armstrong answered when asked what has kept him going over the years. “My family has grown up with the game. It started with my Dad running youth baseball leagues when I was six years old to coaching high school baseball at [age] 58. I love the history of the game and follow many levels of it.”
As for the recognition of being honored by the community in this year’s parade, Armstrong said he’s not sure how to react to it.
“That’s not why you invest the time,” he said. “It is a very nice thing, but if it wasn’t for my family and the people who have helped along the way, nothing would have ever happened.”
Tom and his wife Julie will celebrate 35 years of marriage in September. They have three adult children: Tyler, Emily, and Christian, and two grandsons, Cooper and Corbin.