January/February 1997 WSU Alumni News

A Printer's Printer

Edward W. "Pete" Armstrong '42, who earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Wichita, is chairman and principal owner of McCormick-Armstrong, Wichita, and has been selected as the 1996 WSU Alumni Achievement Award honoree.


With just a smidgen of imagination, one can picture him in a 17th-century printer's smock, his ink-darkened fingers deftly setting type, assembling the foundry letters and symbols for the slow and laborious process of hand printing. His apprentice having left for home, he works alone in his small print shop — concentrating on the task at hand with a master craftsman's fierce attention to detail.

But Edward W. "Pete" Armstrong '42 is no early-day printer. As the chairman and principal owner of McCormick-Armstrong Co. Inc., Wichita, he oversees the operations of a sheet-fed and web offset printing firm that employs a corps of artists, artisans and technicians who produce top-quality materials for clients all across the nation and around the world.

He's also chairman and director of three related companies: High Plains Publishers, Dodge City, Kan.; Terrell Publishing, Kansas City, Mo.; and the Williams Division of McCormick-Armstrong, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Now retired from full-time involvement with the daily operations of the firm, Armstrong still spends hours working at his printing office, where, in 1996, he celebrated 50 years at McCormick-Armstrong.

A congratulatory banner commemorating that occasion clamors for attention amid the stacks of newly printed four-color, glossy calendars and the piles of manila files that congest Armstrong's second-floor lair. A bookshelf cater-cornered to his desk holds such offerings as "From Pioneers to Leaders" and "The Invention of Lithography," while from the opposite wall the photographic images of his wife, Mickey, and their four daughters seem to gaze with feminine bemusement upon the anamnestic clutter of the office.

A story lurks in, behind or under nearly everything here.

"Here it is," Armstrong says, plucking a record album from a pile of papers and publications stacked on a shelf behind his desk. "It's the first recording ever made of Charlie Parker, recorded right here in Wichita."

The album cover features a photograph of jazz great Parker. Armstrong shot the photo.

"Pete's not a musician, but he's always been a great lover of jazz," says James F. "Bud" Gould '40, of Sedona, Ariz., a musician and former music professor who taught at WSU and retired from Northern Arizona University. "In college, Pete and I were fraternity brothers. I worked at a local radio station — back then they hired live musicians. Fred (Higginson '42/46, deceased) and Pete organized a jam session with Jay McShann, who had a Kansas City jazz band. The band was in Wichita performing, and a quite young Charlie Parker was in the band.

"I arranged to use the studio at the radio station one weekend. Unbeknownst to me, the recording engineer taped the session. That was in November of 1940. Years later the recording came out commercially."

The photo of Parker fires other recollections. As Armstrong puts the album away, he talks about his early interest in photography. "I grew up with Gene Smith," he says. "Our families were neighbors. I count myself fortunate to have been exposed to such a world-famous photographer. It was fascinating to watch him work, even as a kid."

Eugene Smith, one of America's premier photographers whose work appeared in Life magazine, was born in Wichita. When they were kids, Armstrong and Smith were best friends, remaining close until Smith's death in 1978. They discovered photography together. The duo collected photos of the new airplane models made in Wichita — until it dawned on them to shoot their own photos. They became so engrossed in photography, they set up a darkroom.

"There are so many sides to Pete," says Gifford Booth Jr. '36, Armstrong's long-time friend. "He has so many interests, photography for one. I remember he was great friends with Gene Smith. But Pete's always in the background. He doesn't like the spotlight much."

He stole the show, though, during a play staged during his senior year at the University of Wichita. According to the Parnassus, "The Wildflower" was the second musical produced by George Wilner that season, and "Pete Armstrong as the skirt chasing shyster walked away with the show."

During his collegiate years at WU, Armstrong majored in chemistry, served as managing editor of the Sunflower and, during his senior year, was president of Alpha Gamma Gamma, which in 1942 had the largest membership of all campus fraternities.

He also met his future wife, Mildred "Mickey" McCoy, at WU. "Mickey was a freshman when I was a senior," he recalls. "She was very active in theater, and I remember seeing her in chemistry labs." But the two didn't become an item until after he had returned from World War II.

Armstrong served as a photographic officer in the U.S. Army Air Force during the war. Then in 1946, he began his career at McCormick-Armstrong as a photographer.

"Our fathers were both printers in Wichita," Booth says. "Pete's father was the Armstrong of the company's original partners. My father owned Grit printing. Pete and I have a lot in common because we share a common background. I've always been impressed with his business sense and insight into the printing industry."

Bolstered by his photographic experience, his lifelong exposure to the printing industry and his head for business, Armstrong moved from the photo studio into manufacturing departments and estimating.

He also took advantage of the opportunity to become better acquainted with Mickey McCoy, who worked for a time as a secretary at the printing company before taking the position of alumni secretary at WU.

"We started going to lunch," Mickey says. "We discovered we liked a lot of the same things." They were married June 13, 1948, and raised four daughters: Sally; twins, Marilyn and Carolyn; and Susan.

Mickey recalls a favorite piece of fatherly advice he often gives his daughters: "Be wise in your decisions."

Family life was — and is — full of adventure. For a time, the Armstrongs kept a houseboat on Grand Lake in Oklahoma and enjoyed being together there. One year Pete and Mickey even loaded the girls and some of their friends into the family stationwagon for a trip to Kansas City to see the Beatles.

"Some of my friends have asked me, 'Pete, how'd you ever cope with being the only man in the house?'" Armstrong says. "I always tell them I just roll with the punches."

Armstrong continued to move up the company ladder. He became plant superintendent in the early 1950s and later was elected a member of the board of directors and a company vice president. In 1968, the firm was reorganized in an exchange of stocks, and he became its president as well as principal owner.

His astute business dealings have been based on simple, conservative ideals. "Our philosophy is to keep the business going," Armstrong says. "We want to keep people employed, and we want to do that by being fair to all concerned."

In addition to his family activities, business duties and professional affiliations, Armstrong enjoys traveling with Mickey and their friends. And somehow he makes time to be active in numerous community and university organizations.

"I've found Pete and Mickey to be unequaled in their generosity and their philanthropic spirit," says Elizabeth King, WSU vice president for advancement. "They love WSU and give so unselfishly to their alma mater. They have become dear friends to me and my family — and are wonderful friends to Wichita State and our community."

Armstrong's service to the university has taken shape in myriad ways. He and Mickey spearheaded WSU's three-year campaign to provide scholarships for students. This Campaign for Students topped its $10 million goal in 1996 and raised more than $11.2 million.

"I'd rather support efforts that directly help students than work to raise money for bricks and mortar," Armstrong says.

"Pete and Mickey are exemplary WSU alumni," says Velma Wallace, who worked with them on the Campaign for Students. "They make a wonderful team."

Another WSU supporter, H. Marvin Bastian, adds, "Pete is interested in the health of the university because he knows the health of the university affects the health of our city."

Known for his forthrightness and integrity, Armstrong received the 1995 Lewis Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented in Chicago by Graphic Arts publisher Ron Andriani. He cited Armstrong's history of accomplishments and described him this way: "Pete Armstrong is a classic. The frugal son of a printer, a printer's printer with the industry's interest always at heart."

A printer's printer with, one should add, our community's welfare always in mind — and a quiet appreciation for the finer points of life.


A Printer's Printer

Edward W. "Pete" Armstrong '42, who earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Wichita, is chairman and principal owner of McCormick-Armstrong, Wichita, and has been selected as the 1996 WSU Alumni Achievement Award honoree.

Good for WSU

E. George Fahnestock '69, the 1996 WSU Alumni Recognition Award honoree, is an avid Shocker fan.

A True Gentleman

Michael P. Tilford, former associate vice president for academic affairs at Wichita State and dean of the WSU Graduate School, is posthumously recognized as the 1996 WSU Faculty Recognition Award honoree.

Call Her 'Mom'

LaVona Spender '71/71/74, WSU University College advisor and instructor, is the 1996 Distinguished Service Award winner.

Most Likely to Succeed

Brian Wells '87 is the 1996 WSU Young Alumnus Award recipient.