Guild Greathouse Forum - Greathouse Family Genealogy, History, Surname Research

Guild Community (posting requires registration) => General Discussion => : Rick January 24, 2008, 07:40:27 PM

: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:40:27 PM
Longtime state archives & history director dismissed without warning.

By Phil Kabler
Staff writer

Fred Armstrong, the longtime state Archives and History director, was fired Thursday.

Armstrong said he was given his letter of termination at a 9 a.m. meeting with Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith.

The letter did not give a reason for his firing, except to note that as a will and pleasure employee, he can be terminated at any time without cause.

“I was found to no longer be needed,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he has almost 30 years of service to the state, and has been director of Archives and History since 1985.

He said he has no idea why he was fired, but said he suspects it has something to do with administration proposals to convert the archives library in the Cultural Center into a café/gift shop.

Armstrong said he’s never taken a position publicly for or against the proposed café.

“I’ve never discussed that with the media,” he said. “If that’s the impetus for my dismissal, there’s nothing I’ve ever said.”

Armstrong said the issue was the source of contention at last week’s Archives and History Commission meeting.

“There was exasperation by the commission members about the inability to get any information,” he said of proposed café, whose plans have never officially been presented to either the commission or the Capitol Building Commission.

“The Commission for the last five or six meetings has been trying to get information,” he said, adding, “Whatever’s being done is being done behind closed doors.”

Armstrong said he believes Reid-Smith had been planning to fire him for some time, and noted that the commissioner had scheduled Thursday’s meeting about 10 days ago.

Reid-Smith was out-of-town Thursday afternoon, and Culture and History spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor could not be reached for comment.

Lara Ramsburg, spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin, said she could not comment, because official policy prohibits discussing personnel matters.

Armstrong said Reid-Smith’s letter concluded by ordering him to “vacate the building immediately,” and said he was offended to be escorted out of the building by a security officer.

“For all these years, I could be trusted with all the state’s valuable records ... but when it comes time to leave, they have to have a security guard escort me,” Armstrong commented.

Armstrong actually did not leave the Cultural Center immediately, but went to the archives library to finish proofreading the next issue of the division’s newsletter. He said he told the security guard that he did not have authority to keep him out of the library, which is open to the public.

“I told him I will use the library, and may well hold court in it in the future,” Armstrong said.

After spending a career building up the state archives, Armstrong said he is bitter about the way he was forced out.

“If I were an embarrassment to the administration, I would expect to get this kind of treatment,” he said.

Bob Conte, chairman of the Archives and History Commission, said he was shocked to learn of Armstrong’s firing Thursday.

“This is as out of the blue to me as it is to everyone else,” he said.

To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, use e-mail or call 348-1220.
: Re: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:41:16 PM
Armstrong had keen foresight

The day before the Manchin administration fired Fred Armstrong from his 22-year job as director of state Archives and History, Armstrong had arrived at work at 8 a.m. and was still there at 6:30 p.m., working on employee evaluations.

I have occasionally found him there at 8 p.m. The archive keeps latish hours for people like me, who work all day and have to squeeze their personal research in after work. The late hours also serve people who drive in from all over the state and beyond to work on their family histories or other projects.

I have a lot of respect for Fred. I have known nothing but professional and prompt service from him and his staff at the archive, whether I visited as some kid right out of college trying to help my aunt track down a certain Civil War ancestor, or called his office as a Gazette editor, looking for help on deadline. It was all the same to them.

A security officer escorted Armstrong out on Thursday, after he finished proofreading the newsletter he was working on. He was shown out as if he were some kind of common thief, rather than the gentlemanly scholar who has helped thousands of genealogists, Civil War researchers, West Virginia historians and others who use the state’s priceless archives to answer questions about the past.

Armstrong thinks he was fired by Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith for questioning the state’s planned changes for the Cultural Center, although he has never done so publicly. As a professional archivist in charge of a vast and complex collection that requires dedicated library space, he told his bosses about a year ago that he was concerned the proposed changes might be destructive for the state’s archive. He would have been remiss if he didn’t share his concerns.

In 2005, Armstrong worked with Salem-Teikyo University to remove the papers of Sen. Jennings Randolph from a storage room where 50-gallon trash cans collected the rain that leaked through the roof and dead beetles were two inches deep on the floor. Snow blew into the room onto the documents when he visited.

He led the effort to pack the documents into 1,000 clean boxes and loaded them on tractor-trailers that carried the collection to Richmond. There, on June 20, 2005, he helped to unload the boxes at a records center where they would be decontaminated by freezing. It was not a holiday in Virginia, so offices were open.

The whole effort took a year and a half, but eventually the documents arrived in Charleston, where staff are gradually cataloging them. So far, they have worked through 19 boxes of photos. There are speeches, including original copies of remarks, letters, memos and video.

Armstrong worked out agreements with WSAZ-TV in Charleston, WTRF-TV in Wheeling and KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, among others, to collect old footage before it was lost. He made arrangements for new footage to be forwarded to the archive as it becomes old and the stations retire it.

He was given responsibility to oversee a grant program for counties in 2000. Each of the 55 county clerks pays a fee. Each year, a board makes grants from the fund to individual counties to help them assess their archive needs and to make improvements.
“That’s really starting to work,” he said.

Armstrong helped to establish the Mining Your History Foundation in 1995, whose volunteer members are interested in family history. They have made about $7,000 worth of donations to the archive and volunteer their time as well.

He installed the ceiling in the archive reading room himself because ceiling tiles were falling on the heads of patrons, the state’s General Services division couldn’t get to the repair soon enough, and it would have cost more than $40,000 to contract it out. He painted the rooms as well.

Because it is a personnel matter, Secretary for Education and the Arts Kay Goodwin, like others in the Manchin administration, says she cannot say why Fred was treated so shabbily. I understand that Armstrong was a will-and-pleasure employee. But is this how nearly 30 years of stellar service is rewarded?

Goodwin has assured me that the collection will not be harmed, that it will not even be moved. Nor will the staff offices be moved. Researchers will enjoy service that is just as good or better, she said. Only the reading rooms will be combined. A gift shop will be restored to the Cultural Center and a café will be added, but there won’t be any cooking in the building.

I have a lot of respect for Goodwin, too. I’d like to trust her judgment.

When Armstrong was pushed out on Thursday, the archive staff were in the process of converting birth, death and marriage records into electronic files. They are also combing through old newspapers to catch any missing names that should have been on the Veterans Memorial at the Capitol. There are already about 1,300 changes to be made to the panels of engraved names, mostly additions.

On his last day on the job, Armstrong consoled the guard who apologetically showed him out, and gave his security escort a ride home.

Miller, The Charleston Gazette’s editorial page editor, can be reached at 348-5117 or at
: Re: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:48:28 PM
Fred Armstrong, in his dedication to preserving the History of West Virginia, the ONLY state to be created out of the Civil War, tried to do the right thing and that is why he was fired. With 22 years of exemplary public service at the Archives, Mr. Armstrong most assuredly deserves better than he got!

Dawn Miller, "The Charleston Gazette’s" editorial page editor, wrote of a man who went over and above the call of duty: (in part)

"As a professional archivist in charge of a vast and complex collection that requires dedicated library space...he told his bosses about a year ago that he was concerned the proposed changes might be destructive for the state’s archive. He would have been remiss if he didn’t share his concerns."

Mr. Armstrong was not one to just sit in his office and delegate. He was completely hands-on and not afraid of getting dirty. He was a Leader who took the responsibilities of preserving our history seriously.

In 2005, Mr. Armstrong, with Salem-Teikyo University, rescued from storage the papers of Sen. Jennings Randolph. Apparently the documents were being stored in a room that "leaked rain and allowed snow to blow onto the documents". It took a year and a half to move, decontaminate, and move again to Charleston, this valuable collection of "speeches, with original copies of remarks, letters, memos & video" for sorting and archiving.

Ms. Miller also wrote in her editorial that ceiling tiles were falling "onto the patron's heads" in the archive reading room. Because repair was slow in coming from the state’s General Services division, Mr. Armstrong physically took it upon himself to install a new ceiling and paint the room. Cost to the state saved by Mr. Armstrong? More than $40,000.00. NOT a mere drop in the bucket to the tax payers of West Virginia!

And they ordered this man walked out of the building by a security guard, who kept apologizing for having to do it!!

(Read the rest of Dawn Miller's excellent editorial here until about Nov. 18:

Hear the man himself! Listen to a 9 minute interview of Fred Armstrong by MetroNews and decide for yourself whether politics in Charleston stinks to high Heaven, or not.

Help us make some noise!!

Keep an eye on the Charleston Gazette because this story isn't over, by any means. Send a letter or email to the Editor and Sen. Byrd. And remember that Charleston isn't the only city involved in this issue. The WHOLE state will be affected by this!

West Virginia Online Newspapers

And, please...last but not least, contact Governor Joe Manchin III and let him hear how you feel about this travesty.
: Re: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:50:18 PM
November 14, 2007

Cheryl Wintz Wtihrow, Margaret Brennan, Kenneth R. Bailey and William McNeel

Armstrong's dedication unusually strong

Like many, many other West Virginians, the members of the West Virginia Historical Society were shocked and saddened by the recent dismissal of Fred Armstrong as the director of the state Archives and History.

This organization, as well as all West Virginians, has benefited from Fred’s work and dedication to preserving the written history of West Virginia. Fred has been the secretary of the West Virginia Historical Society for at least 20 years. During that time, he helped keep the organization alive by personally editing and distributing the society’s magazine, by organizing and coordinating meetings, by suggesting and encouraging society projects and by being the one stable individual in a group of constantly changing volunteers.
: Re: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:51:24 PM
November 16, 2007
Stop, thief! All in a librarian’s work

By Dawn Miller
Staff writer

ONE day about 20 years ago, librarians at the state Archive had their eye on a suspicious-looking visitor who was known to have a criminal record. After he left, one of the staff members flew urgently back to the boss’s office.

“He just took off with the book!”

Archive Director Fred Armstrong charged down the hallway, out the doors and down the front steps, taking each group of steps in a single, long-legged leap.

The thief had turned left toward a parking lot, in the vicinity of the current site of the Veterans Memorial.

Fred ran to the man and said something to the effect of “I need you to come back inside. That book belongs to the collection.”

The man did not fight, but came back. The Archive filed charges against him. As part of a plea agreement, the man promised never to return to the Archive. He did come back a couple times, and the staff chased him out.

The book, a history of Nicholas County, was returned to the shelf. It would have cost the Archive more than $200 to replace, although the money is not the point.

Aside from the quirky comic-book potential of this story — Fred Armstrong, Library Crimefighter! — it also illustrates one of the longstanding weaknesses of the state Archive. Security is a big deal when trying to maintain a collection of rare or unique historical items, while also giving access to the public.

Other libraries of the Archive’s size and stature have more strict procedures. It is common to be asked to lock up your bags and possessions before entering research and reading rooms, for example. Armstrong’s attempts to convince his bosses to make the Archive more secure have always failed.

This is one of the concerns voiced by researchers and historians over plans to combine the Archive with the Library Commission’s reading room and lending library on the other side of the Cultural Center. The Mining Your History Foundation is planning a demonstration at 5:30 p.m. today outside the Cultural Center to protest such changes they believe will be damaging to the Archive.

As news of Armstrong’s sudden dismissal this month has spread, more stories of his service have drifted in.

One night several years ago, Armstrong took a stroll to check on the Veterans Memorial, as was his habit.

As he approached, he saw a man wading in the pool around the structure. His pants were rolled up and he was scooping out change that had been tossed in by visitors and mourners.

Armstrong ran to the spot, jumped up on a low wall and yelled, “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The startled plunderer looked up and stammered an inarticulate reply. Only then did Armstrong look to his left and see an accomplice.

He thought to himself, “Oh, good. There are two of them.”

He coerced the guy into dropping the money, and they took off. “I let them go,” he said. “I wasn’t about to take on two guys.”

After it was all over, he had a pang of doubt. “What if they were a couple of down-and-out Vietnam vets?” he wondered.

Incidentally, when he oversaw it, the money from the memorial was removed periodically and deposited in a fund for the memorial’s upkeep.

Armstrong has worked since he was 12 years old, first on farms, then as a painter, which helped to put him through college. He taught social studies and became a librarian and archivist. He has never been without a job. He’s not quite sure what to do with himself these days.

On Thursday, Armstrong had a longstanding appointment to give a tour of the Capitol for Leadership West Virginia. He offered to bow out, but the tour went on as scheduled.

In the past, when he needed a vacation, he sometimes traveled to Maryland to paint for some friends. He found that while painting, he could organize his thoughts and mentally map out projects back at the office. Feeling a need to get out of town, he tried that old technique last week. But painting brought him little peace this time.

Others have shared more demure examples of Armstrong’s service. One told me that Armstrong went with her to go through the family home of her late husband and to help her identify which of his family’s documents and artifacts might be of value to the state. A letter writer described turning over treasured documents to the Archive, only to be surprised by receiving a beautiful set of copies for the donor’s own family to enjoy. Still another reader recalled participating in one of the overnight lock-ins organized by the Mining Your History Foundation. The event gives researchers a chance to work all night, a special benefit to out-of-town visitors. Fred would escort smokers outside for smoke breaks, and as people were ready to leave he escorted them to their cars, so no one was left alone outside during the small hours.

Instead of fitting Armstrong for a cape for his feats of derring-do, or even for his quieter day-to-day tasks, the Manchin administration fired him just short of his 30th anniversary. Judging from the widespread and sustained reaction, people value a good public servant. Like Armstrong, they deserve an explanation.

Miller, the Gazette’s editorial page editor, can be reached at 348-5117 or at
: Re: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:53:41 PM
Librarians Object to Abrupt Firing of West Virginia Archivist

The board of the West Virginia Library Association is considering whether to voice the association’s concern to Gov. Joe Manchin about the abrupt firing November 1 of state archivist Fred Armstrong after 22 years in that post and 30 years at the archives. Although WVLA officials did not plan to issue any statement before their December 4–5 meeting, other librarians and archives patrons across the state are speaking out forcefully about the sudden termination of Armstrong, an at-will employee who was given no reason for his dismissal, which was effective immediately.

Read More (
: Re: WV Archives Director, Fred Armstrong Fired
: Rick January 24, 2008, 07:56:10 PM
Randall Reid-Smith, the commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, appeared before the Senate Government Organization Committee today to discuss the status of remodeling and expansion plans for the state’s Cultural Center at the Capitol Complex. While I have followed with a bit of interest posts in another blog about the issues surrounding the Cultural Center I must admit it has been a bit like gawking at a train wreck.

Read More (