Google my baby brother? Why in the wide, wide world of sports would I want or need to Google my youngest brother? Hold on — I got some ‘splainin‘ to do.
First, you need to understand there’s nothing humble about the oldest and youngest of Esther and William Armstrong’s three sons. They have creds. Lots of creds. My middle brother, Bill, knows how important his brothers are. Just ask him.
Dr. Anton Armstrong, Garry’s baby brother
Anton Eugene Armstrong is my baby brother. I think he probably likes that “baby” adjective more and more these days. Soon, he’ll start receiving AARP literature — if he hasn’t already. Welcome to my world, little brother.
Anton entered the world center stage on April 26th in a very special year. I was a high school freshman. Dwight D. Eisenhower was beginning his second term as President. John F. Kennedy was the junior Senator from Massachusetts. Elvis Presley was racking up number one singles every week. Two of New York’s three major league baseball teams were quietly hatching plans to abandon us for the west coast, leaving a generation of broken hearts.
Mom called Anton her “old age” baby but she glowed with happiness on his arrival. Mom always liked Anton best! (Spare me the groans). As oldest son in a family without girls, I was not only his big brother but Anton’s chief diaper changer, cook, playmate and baby sitter. He was an adorable baby and a cute kid. My dad, not given to spontaneous emotion, was obviously taken with his youngest son, even calling him “Tony.” I think dad was the only one who got away with calling Anton “Tony.”
It was obvious, from a very early age, that Anton was bright and talented. Even as a toddler, he had a lovely voice that would become memorable in later years. Young Anton would come into my room as I played my 45s. He would memorize two or three lines from my favorite songs. Richie Valens would’ve loved Anton’s take on “Donna”. “Oh, Donna! Oh Donna! Oh Donna!,” Anton would sing repeatedly with perfect tone changes. I figured my baby brother might be a star on “American Bandstand” one day. Wrong ballpark.
My parents decided Anton would flourish in private schools given his intelligence and quest for knowledge, especially his growing interest in choral music. Thus, Anton began attending Lutheran schools, quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest students, grade after grade.
Anton’s academic excellence continued through high school, college and graduate school. He didn’t take anything for granted, immediately giving back by tutoring younger students during summer school.
Anton didn’t forget family. He always stayed in touch no matter how busy his schedule. He would continue this even as his career blossomed and took him to an international stage as director of the world-famous St. Olaf’s Choir. I fondly remember the night when the choir performed a concert in Boston. I covered the event but kept my distance with the TV crew. Anton paused during the concert to make special note of my presence, acknowledging his big brother, one of the city’s most respected reporters. What a moment!
Marilyn and I have seen Anton’s work as a choir director, working with relatively young, inexperienced groups. In two or three hours, he turns them into an ensemble, as if they’ve been singing together for years. Impressive!
Anton has also brought diversity and freshness to the St. Olaf music department, no easy chore in a very traditional program. Anton has done this almost seamlessly while honoring music that has endured for generations.
Marilyn and I didn’t have to worry about music for our wedding. Anton, our good friends Kit Grundstein and Mary Mitchell were memorable and touching in their performances. Both Kit and Mary have gotten a lot of mileage out of singing with my brother.
I am used to being recognized after all my years as a TV news reporter. Matter of fact, I kind of expect it. As I said earlier, there’s nothing humble about the oldest and youngest Armstrong brothers. One day, a few years back, I was stopped by some people who asked if I was Garry Armstrong. I smiled and began reaching for the picture postcards I autograph for fans. I stopped when they asked if I was related to the famous Anton Armstrong.
Yes, I was humbled. But I was so very proud when I said “Yes, he’s my baby brother.”
Happy birthday, baby brother!