In the Rim Country, Bill Armstrong is known as a longtime rodeo boss, a crafty businessman, a sports aficionado and the father and grandfather to some of the finest athletes to ever play for Payson High School.
But in his hometown of Winslow, he is remembered as the feisty son of the school superintendent and a talented football player.
At Winslow High in the mid 1950s, Armstrong played tight end for legendary coach Emil Nasser’s always-tough Bulldogs.
During Armstrong’s years at WHS, Nasser-coached teams were among the best in Arizona, winning numerous conference and region titles.
After graduation from high school, Armstrong knocked around for years before moving in 1972 to Star Valley, which at the time had only about 400 residents, Armstrong remembers.
Today, Armstrong is one of the most well known men in the Rim Country, partly because of his business enterprises.
After first moving to Payson, he owned and operated the Texaco service station near the intersection of the Beeline Highway and Highway 260. He later owned Armstrong’s Automotive east of town, but sold it, thinking he was going to retire.
But only a few months into his retirement, he decided to open Bill Armstrong Jewelry and Pawn in Star Valley.
He continues today to own and operate the business that buys and sells Native American jewelry and firearms and sells firewood.
For the past 30 years he has headed the Payson Rodeo Committee and is the rodeo boss for both the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo in May and the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo three months later.
Under Armstrong’s leadership, the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo, also known as the August Doin’s, was named the “Best Small Town Rodeo in America.”
During the years when rodeos were held in Rumsey Park at the old rodeo grounds — located where the south multipurpose field now stands — the weekend event grew in stature attracting some of the country’s finest cowboys and throngs of city slickers eager for a glimpse of small-town rodeo life.
As successful as the rodeos were under Armstrong’s guidance, he and his fellow committee members faced a crisis in the late 1990s when the chamber of commerce and the Pro Rodeo Committee couldn’t settle on a contract.
The entire disagreement obviously disturbed Armstrong, but he refused to engage in a war of words with the chamber, instead focusing on reacquiring the rights to the rodeo.
In 2000, the Pro Rodeo Committee settled with the chamber by clearing the last major hurdle needed to continue producing the August Rodeo.
That same year, the Payson Rodeo was moved from its former home at Rumsey Park site to the newly completed multi-event center south of town.
Through all the turmoil, Armstrong’s leadership helped the committee survive, but that wasn’t the last time he would have to step up in a crisis.
In 2010 after talks between the committee and chamber hit a snag, chamber members opted to oust the pro rodeo group, and instead contracted with the Payson Rodeo Alliance to produce the 125th rodeo.
Just a year later, after the Alliance filed a suit against the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Committee signed an agreement with the chamber that gave the Pro Rodeo Committee ownership of the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo.
For Armstrong, there have been good times and bad times, but through it all he’s managed to stage two of the finest rodeos in small-town Arizona for decades.