Sunday Stories: James M. and Gertrude (Essex) Armstrong

Excerpted from the Sutherland Centennial 1891 – 1991, published in 1991.

James M. Armstrong was born in Davenport, Nebraska, July 2, 1888, the son of Winfield Scott and Ellen (Beck) Armstrong. His father worked for the railroad. James left home at the age of 14, working at various jobs. His main interest always being in sales. He was one of the first employees of the Omaha Electric Company, a barber, managed grain elevators and owned one of the first cars in his county.

Gertrude (Essex) Armstrong was born inGage County (near Beatric), Nebraska, October 1899 to Omer and Elizabeth Dinsmore Ellinger Essex.

Jimmie and Gertrude were married in Smith Center, Kansas, November 28, 1922. After living in small towns in eastern Nebraska, they moved west for Jimmie’s health, settling in Curtis, where they operated cafes and Jimmie sold insurance and umpired baseball games. Their daughter, Illa Mae, was born in Curtis on February 9, 1926.

In 1930, the family moved to Denver where they operated a grocery store. In January 1931, they moved to Flagler, Colorado, where Jim operated a lunchroom and Gertrude made the pies. They again returned to Curtis in 1931, again operating cafes. Illa Mae attended elementary school in Curtis, receiving the National Honor Society Pin in 1939 for the highest grade point average of that year.

Selling their restaurant in 1939, they came to Sutherland in August where they opened a small café by the Co-Op Service Station, continuing there until 1943. Jimmie was then working to establish an Allis-Chalmers Agency. He had been selling through the Ogallala agency. He had worked in Omaha in the parts department during the First World War.
Illa Mae attended four years at Sutherland High, graduating in 1943 as Salutatorian. She was active in Pep Club, mixed choir, girls choir, class plays and other activities. She was a member of the Methodist Church and Theta Rho.

In 1945, Illa Mae went to Boise, Idaho to attend Junior College (now Boise State). Her parents closed the café and Gertrude then managed the White Motel for Connor White, Jimmie had established ‘Armstrong Implement Company’ south of the railroad tracks.

Illa Mae received her diploma from BJC in 1945 and transferred as a junior to the University of Denver where she received her B.S. in 1947. She was a member of the Phi Chi Theta professional sorority.

Jimmie was a long time member of the I.O.O.F. having gone through the chairs in 1929. In Sutherland he owned a plane enabling him to deliver implement parts in the Sandhills. Friends piloted the plane. He also checked attendance at the Star Theatre.

Gertrude was a faithful member of the Methodist Church, receiving her 50-year pin. After the restaurant was closed, she devoted a great deal of her time to the church.

Jimmie and Gertrude retired in 1957, selling the Implement business to Bernard Gummere, Jimmie continuing in auto sales. He passed away October 8, 1971 and is buried in the Sutherland Cemetery. He was a “dyed in the wool” Nebraskan and always enjoyed living in a small town, fishing in the reservoir, etc.

Gertrude enjoyed needlework, singing and cooking. She preceded Jimmie in death on November 9, 1970, and is also buried in the Sutherland Cemetery. Jimmie’s grandmother was a cousin to Stonewall Jackson.

Submitted by Illa Mae Armstrong Imroth


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