by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
One day about 10 years ago I was walking through my narrow little backyard on Mankato Avenue and I heard a squeal. This was not unusual, little bursts of laughter and activity coming from across the fence, but that day I could see what looked like a brightly colored circus tent top peeking over, balloons, music. And it wasn’t just the delighted peel of my neighbor Bob’s kids, Felix and Simon. It was a chorus of children, giggling, stomping, squealing. I peeked over the repurposed wooden fence into “Doctor” Bob Armstrong’s yard to a whirlwind of kids dancing around, to puppets, to balloons and the kind of fanciful children’s party you might find on the set of a movie, but rarely in real life. It was Simon’s birthday!
I am not the best birthday remembering person in the world, so I try to keep some silly gifts on hand most of the time, and I ran inside my house and found a little present for Simon. I invited myself to the festivities and handed the trinket over, and as I took in Bob’s elaborately planned party, I remember whispering to Simon, “You have the coolest dad in the world.”
Simon and Felix do, indeed, have the coolest dad in the world, and they are some of the most charming kids I have had the pleasure of knowing. On Sunday, the three, along with roommate Travis Mord, lost everything in a horrific house fire. It was a harrowing escape (read about it on page 1a), and all are incredibly thankful that everyone survived. It could have been worse, but that being said, it’s still pretty bad.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to start over, to walk away with a set of pajamas to my name. But I’m also not an artist like Bob, I haven’t spent the last 25 years creating unique artwork that is my livelihood. Bob has. That backyard party was merely an example of some of the things that Bob has created and collected over the years. His home was like a museum of interesting artwork that could leave you captivated for hours and hours, without even scratching the surface.
Bob was not just a neighbor to me. He is family. And if I’ve learned anything about him, I know that you don’t have to live next door to him to be part of that family. That is why I know that this community is going to rally around Bob and Felix and Simon and Travis, and we are going to make sure that they have what they need to stay happy and healthy as they rebuild their lives. Please consider joining me in supporting them.
There are several ways you can! First, there is a benefit planned for Friday, January 5, beginning at 5 p.m. at Ed’s No Name Bar in Winona. Plans are still in the works but there will be plenty of opportunities to help at the event. Donations may also be made online for both the Armstrong and Mord families: gofundme.com/robert-armstrongs-house-fire and gofundme.com/9kexx-travis-mord. Checks may also be written to Bob Armstrong or Travis Mord and dropped off at the Winona Post office, 64 East Second Street, Winona.