Irene Agnes Armbrust (1929-2001): Making the most of what she had (52 Ancestors #11)

Posted for the blog meme 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks hosted by Amy Johnson Crowe of No Story Too Small.

My mother, Irene Agnes Armbrust,[1] was born February 2, 1929. She was the first child of Daniel and Elizabeth (Jaeger) Armbrust. Though both her civil birth certificate and church baptism record state she was born in Kildeer, Dunn County, North Dakota, she always claimed that she was born at the Grassy Butte, North Dakota post office. You can read more about that here.[2]

Records are scarce between Irene’s birth in 1929 and the 1940 U.S. census, when Elizabeth Armbrust was enumerated as a widowed head of household with three children in Watford City, McKenzie County, North Dakota.[3] Daniel died in Dickinson, North Dakota in February 1936.[4] Irene was 11 years old and her siblings Dolores and Elmer were 7 and 5 years old respectively. Elizabeth Armbrust died in September 1946.[5] Irene was 17 years old, Dolores was 13, and Elmer was 12.

Irene was 18 when she graduated from St. Joseph High School in Wild Rice, North Dakota in June 1947.[6] I don’t have specific information about Irene’s location or activities between 1947 and 1950 except that she was employed as a stenographer at Bismarck Grocery in Dickinson before her marriage in May 1950.[7] She had some sort of relationship with the Jack and Barbara Reisenhauer family in Dickinson sometime between her father’s death in 1936 and 1950. I have only a vague recollection that she was fostered to the Reisenhauers at some point between Daniel’s death in 1936 and her high school graduation in 1947. Whatever the relationship, I know that “Grandma Reisenhauer” gave my sister Wynne and me fragile, porcelain-head dolls in the late 1950s.

1950 William Arnold & Irene Armbrust wedding announcement

William Arnold & Irene Armbrust wedding announcement

Irene married William (Bill) Henry Arnold on May 3, 1950, at St. Patrick’s Church in Dickinson, North Dakota. Dolores Armbrust, Irene’s younger sister, was maid of honor; Walter Arnold, brother of the groom, was best man. Other attendants included Martha Focht, Pauline Wehner, John Arnold, and Frank Focht.[8] Bill’s father and stepmother, Peter and Margaret Arnold, hosted a dinner reception for the couple at the Knights of Columbus hall in Gladstone. I am, once again, short of details, but family lore is that departing guests had to contend with an early spring snow when they left the reception.

Bill and Irene lived in several rented apartments and houses before they purchased their first home in Dickinson[9] in about 1957. It was a small house: kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. They built a third bedroom in the basement of the house to provide more space for their growing family.

Bill and Irene parented 10 children. Seven of the children (William, Wanda, Wynne, Laura, Sandra, Kelley, and Kevin) were born in Dickinson between 1951 and 1964. Penney, Darla, and Ryan were born in Great Falls, Montana, between 1968 and 1977.

The sale of the Dickinson home provided the down payment for Bill and Irene’s next and final home. They purchased a newly constructed three bedroom, one bath house shortly after they moved to Great Falls in mid-1965.

Bill and Irene were a one-income family. Bill worked as a mechanic in a Plymouth/Dodge dealership in Dickinson. He started as a mechanic at Bison Ford in Great Falls in 1965 and was foreman of the dealership’s large truck shop when he retired in 1989.[10] They were, of necessity, very careful of their money. There was little waste in our household—leftovers were almost non-existent and outgrown clothes and shoes were automatically passed down to the next child in line. As described here, Mom was especially mindful of the family’s expenses.

Irene joined the Eagles Auxiliary in 1966. She competed in the organization’s ritual process for many years and held both local and state positions between 1966 and when she served as Montana’s auxiliary president in 1991.[11]

Gladstone 1982: Bill, Irene, & Ryan

Bill and Irene traveled to Memphis, Tennessee in about 1990, combining a visit with their son Kevin and his family along with attending an Eagles event. They also traveled to several Arnold family reunions, including the Gladstone Centennial in 1982, Dickinson in 1990 and 2000, Las Vegas in 1994, and Minneapolis in 1996.

Irene had the first of several strokes during the winter of 1991/1992. Since she was unable to travel to the larger Arnold reunion, held in Bozeman, Montana, in 1992, Bill and Irene hosted their own mini-reunion in Great Falls, with nine of their ten children and their families in attendance. Kevin, on active duty with the U.S. Navy, was not able to attend.

1992 Wm Arnold family in GF-

Back Row (l-r): Wanda, Sandy, Kelley, Laura, & Bill
Middle row (far right): Wynne & Darla
Front row (l-r): Ryan, Bill, Irene, & Penney

Mom was a storyteller, and she had her own unique sense of humor. When I was very young, she told me that if I stuck my elbow in my ear, I would turn into a boy. Presumably the opposite would happen to a boy who managed to stick his elbow in his ear. I will admit to trying (then, several times between then and now, and about 30 seconds ago!), but I’ve never managed the feat. I have no idea where Mom came up with this idea; further I doubt this is physically possible for probably 99% or more of humankind, and I’ve certainly never seen the phenomena described elsewhere.

Irene Agnes (Armbrust) Arnold passed away at Benefis Health Care-East Campus in Great Falls, Montana on September 23, 2000. She was 71 years old. She was survived by Bill, her husband of 50 years, the couple’s ten children, 13 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren, her sister Dolores Rodgers of Mandan, North Dakota, and brother Elmer Armbrust of Fargo, North Dakota.[12] Bill and Irene are buried at Highlands Cemetery in Great Falls, Montana.

[1] Irene Agnes Arnold is the wife of William Henry Arnold and the daughter-in-law of Peter and Magdalena Arnold.
[2] This post was written almost 2 ½ years ago, long before I became interested in genealogy. Feel free to ignore the Photoshop-related discussion.
[3] 1940 U.S. census, Watford City, McKenzie County, North Dakota, population schedule, enumeration district 27-36, sheet 3B, dwelling 70, Elizabeth Armbrust family; digital image, Ancestry .com ( : accessed 20 March 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T627_3006.
[4] North Dakota Certificate of Death State File No.4127 (1936), Daniel Armbrust, State Health Department.
[5] Death/burial record obtained from St. Joseph’s Church reports Elizabeth Armbrust’s death of a heart attack on September 1, 1946. She was buried in the church’s cemetery on September 8, 1946.
[6] Family records: diploma dated June 1, 1947 from St. Joseph High School, Wild Rice, North Dakota, and Catholic Action News dated July 1947.
[7] Undated/unsourced wedding announcement. Likely source: Dickinson Press, May 1950.
[8] John Arnold is William’s next older brother; Martha Focht and Frank Focht are his paternal first cousins; Pauline Wehner is his maternal first cousin.
[9] The home was located at 1076 Carroll Street, Dickinson, North Dakota.
[10] Obituary for William Henry Arnold. Great Falls Tribune, 29 April, 2003.
[11] “Irene Arnold will make her official auxiliary visit,” Great Falls Tribune, 31 January 1991.
[12] Irene A. Arnold obituary, Great Falls Tribune, 25 September 2000.

One thought on “Irene Agnes Armbrust (1929-2001): Making the most of what she had (52 Ancestors #11)

  1. Fascinating storytelling, Wanda. I think I was most struck by the image of your family of 12 living in a 3-bedroom, 1 bath home. My own family, which swelled to eight when my two stepbrothers would visit for the summer, also managed to get along with only one bathroom. These days, if you can believe what you see on those househunter shows on HGTV, every family member MUST have not only their own bedroom but their own bathroom, too, or how could they possibly manage to survive?

    I am enjoying reading your family stories so much! They often trigger memories of my own and make me think I should be writing some of them down.

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