If a sharp wit and smiling demeanor are the keys to longevity, it’s no wonder longtime local resident Bill Armstrong is still going strong at the age of 100.
He and his three children, Lea Anderson, Lani Netter and Alan Armstrong, all of Malibu, were the guests of a special breakfast program of the Malibu Optimist Club last week celebrating his first century.
Armstrong first moved to Malibu with his family in 1950 to a small beach house on Latigo Shore Drive, where he still lives today. He spent his career as an engineer for various aircraft and research companies. His wife Virginia founded the Carden Malibu private school on Las Flores Canyon Road in 1965, which she ran for nearly 30 years while Bill oversaw the finances.
“Virginia wasn’t interested in collecting money,” he laughed. “She took in everybody whether they had the resources or not.”
The school was then converted to Malibu Country Preschool by daughter-in-law Diana Armstrong for six years, leased to the Odyssey School for 10 years and the New Roads School for five years before granddaughter Sunshine Silverston decided to try her hand at the family business. Her “Under the Oaks” early childhood center opened on March 15, 2014.
In speaking to the crowd at the Optimist Club, Armstrong said, “It’s a great and wonderful surprise that all you people showed up here today. It’s difficult to say anything greater than thanks for being here.”
He recounted the events of his life – born in Seattle in 1915, moved to Decatur, Ill., in 1924, then came to California.
“My day job was at Hughes Aircraft, and we put the first object on the moon … Then I went to [Hughes Research Laboratories].”
Describing himself as “sentimental,” some of Armstrong’s fondest memories were raising his three children on the beach and the constant “menagerie” of animals that came into the family’s care.
“We had a harbor seal, several sea lions, a turkey and a goose … We ended up with two deer that lived to be 15 years old. I’d go to the grocery store to get lettuce for them.”
Armstrong’s son, Alan, told The Malibu Times that the Optimist Club has been a big part of his father’s life for the past 30 years. As part of the birthday breakfast program, Mark Ball presented a birthday cake with an icing photo of a 1926 Pierce- Arrow on it (one of Armstrong’s favorite cars), and the words “100 Years of Optimism – Happy 100th Birthday, Bill!”
Phil Gajic presented Armstrong with a special sea lion tile made by Topanga Art Tile, in recognition of his former menagerie. He also announced that the club had made a $100 donation to the Optimist Youth Home in Armstrong’s honor, and that “a thousand-dollar scholarship in Bill’s name will now be given out every year.”
City Councilman Skylar Peak said, “It’s not every day we have people turn 100 in our community.” He presented Armstrong with a certificate of recognition from the City of Malibu and said, “We wish him as much health and happiness in his second century.”
Retired Webster School Principal Ron Merriman also pleasantly reminisced, explaining Armstrong had been a founding member of Malibu’s Optimist Club in 1960, and a past president.
“Bill is one of the greatest Optimist workers that I know,” Merriman said. “He’d pick up the wood and help make the Christmas crèche [for the annual community nativity scene].”
Merriman also talked about Armstrong’s love of old cars and radios, the fact that he still rides in old cars in the Fourth of July parade with “military girls,” and made DC-3 aircrafts for Douglas Aircraft with just $70,000 price tags in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Armstrong’s daughter Lea Anderson told the crowd that her father’s loves include Laurel & Hardy-style humor, story-telling, his family, classical music, irreverent jokes and Pierce-Arrow cars.
Years ago, “He’d dive for abalone and lobster on Point Dume wearing a wool sweater as a wetsuit.”
Daughter Lani Netter recalled being in the 4-H club in high school, and that her dad didn’t mind that she kept 100 chickens and 50 rabbits for the club.
“He was a wonderful father. [His attitude was] ‘There’s the beach, there’s the horse, and what else could you need?’”
Armstrong’s closing words to the crowd were, “I wish you well and wish you a long life.”