Ellen Mae Eaton was born April 18, 1934, to an impoverished family during the depths of the Great Depression. She rose from hardscrabble life on a desolate homestead in Wheatland, Wyoming, and a poor but loving childhood in Chadron, Nebraska, to national centers of influence in Washington, D.C.
Politics was part of Ellen Armstrong’s life from the day she married Bill in 1962 – just a week after he became the youngest nominee in history for the Colorado State House. They learned the ropes together over the next 25 years. Ellen became a beloved presence at political events in Colorado for six decades, known for a genuine, friendly, and caring spirit.
During the 18 years her husband served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Ellen raised their two children, Anne and Wil. At the same time, she became a leader of numerous charitable organizations, mentor to hundreds of young staffers, founder of congressional Bible study groups, and friend of some of the nation’s most powerful leaders.
Ellen was involved in the National Federation for Drug Free Youth (the bi-partisan congressional wives’ group), the Republican Congressional Women’s Club, and was an officer in the Congressional Wives Prayer Group. She served as a member of the International Club, a group of spouses of senators, cabinet members, ambassadors, and reporters.
In 1976, Ellen chaired the annual first lady’s congressional luncheon and later became friends with Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush. For 18 years, she was an active member of the Friday Group Bible study group in the home of Joann Kemp, wife of Congressman, Cabinet Member, and Vice-Presidential nominee Jack Kemp.
Ellen also hosted similar Bible study groups in her own homes, in both Washington and Denver. In the 1980s, she helped start the bipartisan Senate Spouses prayer breakfast, which is still active today. During this time, she told friends that as her faith grew, she was energized by a passion to share the Gospel with others.
She became heavily involved in the Senate Spouses Club, a Red Cross unit founded in 1917 that hosted blood drives on Capitol Hill and made clothes for newborn babies and indigent mothers. Ellen later served on the advisory committee of the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the country’s most influential pro-life organizations.
She had a heart for persecuted Christians and Jews all over the world, the vulnerable, and the poor, and she traveled widely to help shed light on human rights abuses, especially in the Soviet Union. Ellen was active in many organizations promoting these causes.
When her husband retired from the Senate in 1991, he and Ellen returned home to Colorado, where she joined the Board of Trustees of Colorado Christian University, and the board of elders at Cherry Hills Community Church. She left the CCU board when her husband was appointed president of the school. But in her role as CCU’s “first lady,” she was a constant and faithful supporter, booster, and presence at campus events for over a decade.
Ellen and Bill presided over an unprecedented period of growth and realignment at CCU. Her son, Wil, is now the chairman of the Board of Trustees at the university.
Throughout their lives together, Ellen and Bill Armstrong were highly successful in business, and she was a co-owner, officer, and board member in numerous businesses: the Colorado Springs Sun, Armstrong Broadcasting, Cherry Creek Mortgage, KEZW Radio, and others.
Bill Armstrong often referred to her as his greatest asset, and at their 50th anniversary party, remarked that his “greatest success in life was marrying the right woman.” Their marriage and love for each other was an inspiration to their family.
Ellen passed peacefully on Thursday, September 21, 2023, at her home at Vi in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, surrounded by her family. She is survived by her daughter, Annie Armstrong Sellman and her husband, Richard Sellman, of Chadron, Nebraska; her son, Wil Armstrong and his wife, Kristy, of Cherry Hills Village, Colorado; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Ellen and Bill Armstrong believed the in the transformational power of Christ-centered higher education. The Armstrong Center, currently under construction, is named in honor of Bill Armstrong and will serve as the academic and spiritual cornerstone for CCU's Lakewood campus. Click here to leave a contribution to the Armstrong Center in memory of Ellen.