Passed away May 30, 2005
Excerpts from Profiles in Courage, written by Bob Siegel for the February 2001 issue of Spread and Circulate
Jerry Armstrong grew up in the small town of Alpine in southwest Texas, in the heart of the state's cattle country. It is a great place to live and he still has many relatives there that he visited often. But it was no place for a gay boy!
So in 1964, he moved to Chicago to attend the Ray Vogue School of Interior Design. The following year, he met Peter Kalamaras in what was then Chicago's gay district on the Near-North side. They shared the same sense of humor and got off (in more ways than one) right off the bat. They were together for 29 years until Peter's death in 1994.
Jerry dropped out of school after a year and a half (he felt he wasn't flaming enough for interior design) and worked in hotel management for several years. Then in 1978, he and Peter opened the Village Green Garden Center on Halsted near Armitage. At this time, Lincoln Park was not the trendy neighborhood it is today and it was groundbreaking to startup a business there. The Village Green was quite an institution in the neighborhood and for a while, Jerry even had a radio spot talking about gardening with talk show host Tom Weber. He also made a guest appearance with Bob Vila on "This Old House". Eventually, the high property taxes that came with the gentrification of the area forced its closure in 1996. But Jerry and Peter had a second business.
The Manhandler Saloon, at 1948 N. Halsted, opened in 1980, one of the first gay bars on all of Halsted. Jerry described it as a "man's bar where you can be yourself with no attitude and no B.S." Though its reputation for back room escapades is not without merit, he said it was the type of place where gays will still talk to you even if you don't want to have sex! The Manhandler appreciates its patrons with a Sunday buffet at 6pm (catered by Ann Sathers). Tuesday night pizza at 10pm and monthly horoscope parties where prizes such as bar tabs are given to those with birthdays that month.
Jerry first joined the Chi-Town Squares in 1994 after seeing us dance at the North Halsted Market Days. He graduated in 1995, but then took a couple of years off before rejoining and taking the class over in 1997. Strangely, he said the only call he remembered from his first time taking the class was one of the more difficult Plus calls, Load the Boat. He had been an active member ever since, volunteering his time at Crossfire and at our booth at North Halsted Market Days and marching in the Pride parade.
Jerry has also been generous financially to the Chi-Town Squares. For the past several years, Jerry has donated at least $1,000 to the club at the annual Manhandler Christmas party. He supported other community groups as well, issuing similar checks in the past to Howard Brown, Open Hand, Horizons, the Lakeside Pride Band, and the Chicago Gay Mens Chorus, which he has supported since its inception.
In addition to being a member of the Chi-Town Squares, Jerry was also a member of the Windy City Gay Naturalists. He enjoyed traveling and attended many fly-ins each year, including San Antonio's Fool Around the Alamo, Las Vegas' Chase Right, and Grand Rapids Ropin' the River.