Born on September 19, 1921, in Minnewaukon, North Dakota, Eldora Arlyene Hillerud was the sole child of Norwegian parents Ole and Amanda Hillerud. Arlyene (as she was called) arrived only a year after American women gained the right to vote. Over her life, she bore witness to many radical world changes and served quietly as a strong role model to all who knew her.
Arlyene attended high school in Austin, Minnesota, where she served as drum major, wrote for the newspaper and was city doubles tennis champion. There she met and dated George Elliott Armstrong. They enjoyed riding his motorcycle and dancing to big bands like Frank Sinatra. They were excellent dancers. Arlyene attended secretarial school in Minneapolis (her dad didn’t see the point in women attending college) and worked for the head of Hormel. When World War II broke out, she moved to California with her parents for work. She desperately wanted to be a “Rosie Riveter,” but due to her superb secretarial skills she instead was secretary to the head of Ford Motors, where she devised ingenious free ways to transport Jeeps to troops, like enlisting prostitutes because they were headed that way anyhow.
On May 9, 1943, Arlyene married George Elliott Armstrong in Richmond, California. George wasn’t required to serve in World War II because his only brother, Jack, died at Guadalcanal. However, he told Arlyene that he wanted to be an Air Force pilot and enlisted. As he trained, they lived all over the States. She talked about Texas nights and pulling mattresses to the roof because it was “so darned hot.” During the war, George flew B-24 bombers and achieved the rank of Captain.
After the war, they settled in Longview, Washington, and had two little girls – Janice and Lynn. Arlyene ran a very successful children’s dance studio, until one day George came home and announced that he’d accepted a job in Cuba. So off they went to Varadero with their girls, aged 11 and 12. Arlyene told stories of taking the girls to watch Ernest Hemingway and his wife Mary drink and dance Conga lines at the airport bar.
After the Cuban Revolution, she met Fidel Castro. One day she and her friend were standing on the house balcony as Castro and his entourage drove by. Castro invited them down and introduced himself to the pretty Americans. Six months later, Arlyene was able to get her girls and belongings out of Cuba, while George was forced to remain behind and train Castro’s men to run a factory.
They landed in Augusta, Georgia. The family was unaccustomed to segregation. Arlyene had to explain to her girls that colored fountains did not mean rainbow colored water. Alone at age 38 with two girls and no money, she needed to work. She found a job as the secretary to William “Billy” Morris, head of Morris Communications, which owned newspapers across the country.
These were exciting years in newspaper industry. Billy Morris served as the head of the Associated Press for a while. He was a man with many interests and Nanny’s job was an endless adventure. She spent much time at his Creek Plantation with quarter horse training and auctions. He was a member of Augusta National and friends with famous golfers. One of her weirder moments was buying underwear for Jack Nicklaus.
In off hours, she enjoyed singing in the church choir, playing handbells, making candles, swimming in her pool, and walking on her treadmill while listening to Willie Nelson sing “Whiskey River”.
She had access to the company condo in Hilton Head’s Harbor Town, and vacationed there each summer with her family, stopping on the way to buy boiled peanuts and peaches. She liked to bob in the waves on a float with grandchildren, go out to dinner and play Yahtzee.
Arlyene was a fantastic employee, and eventually Morris made her the Corporate Secretary with company stock. She is a role model for how hard work is a major component of success.
On retirement, she was always occupied. She bought her dream vacation condo on the Gulf, overlooking the water. She traveled the world with her daughter Lynn, went to China with in-laws, sang in church choirs, tap-danced with her daughter Janice, and created magnificent needlepoints. She was ever ready to pack to be closer to family because she always put family first. She was so proud of her grandchildren, who called her Nanny, and never missed any event: from dance recitals, football games, wrestling matches and movie premieres to birthdays, graduations and weddings. She flew to the aid of loved one in need, and even helped drive a U Haul from Brooklyn to Alabama.
She was brilliant, read endlessly, and was a news junkie. She subscribed to newspapers for decades and collected and mailed newspaper clippings. When CNN came along, it was the only channel she watched.
Arlyene hated cooking. She loved Triscuits microwaved with dill Havarti cheese, any salad with mayonnaise, and Chinese food. She possessed a wicked sense of humor and loved sending slightly inappropriate birthday cards. She had a soft spot for difficult animals, becoming the final home for all cantankerous and unwanted family cats, and found endless amusement in their bizarre shenanigans. In her late 80s, she was often photographed by The Birmingham News playing frisbee in parks with one granddaughter’s border collie, Ailsa.
Arlyene came from the greatest generation. She was a no-nonsense Scandinavian and a survivor. She overcame cancer in her 20s, a brain tumor, and two bouts with COVID at age 98 and 99. She rarely wore make up and never dyed her hair, but always kept a bottle of Shalimar perfume, and later, White Diamonds. She rarely complained, and was the epitome of unconditional love, support and generosity.
We are glad that she is reunited somewhere in the beyond with her youngest daughter, Lynn, her husband George, her parents, the grumpy cats, and the frisbee-loving border collie. Those left behind will miss her forever.
She is survived by her loving daughter Janice Armstrong Kirkpatrick, who dined with her each day until the end, her son-in-law, David, three grandchildren and their spouses: Celia Carey Meyer (Sean), Drew Kirkpatrick (Janet), Amanda Kirkpatrick DeWeese (David) and five great grandchildren: Vivienne, Hope, George, Nolen and Lucas.
The family would like to express their gratitude to Hospice and Palliative Care of the Charlotte Region who lovingly cared for her for almost four years. The staff of the Pavilion Healthcare Center in Ballantyne were angels, treating her as though she was a beloved family member.
A service celebrating the extraordinary life of Arlyene (Nanny) Armstrong will be held Saturday, February 19, 2022, at 2 p.m. in the Francis Chapel at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to either Myers Park United Methodist Church handbell choir or Hospice & Palliative Care of the Charlotte Region.
Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth W. Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Ave., Charlotte, NC; 28204 (704) 641-7606. Online condolences can be shared at www.kennethpoeservices.com.
Published by Kenneth W. Poe Funeral & Cremation Service – Charlotte from Feb. 11 to Feb. 12, 2022.