Armstrong's Department Store left an indelible mark on Cedar Rapids residents, and the city, during its 100 years of existence. Now, 30 years after the doors closed for good, the charitable trust of its longtime owners is making one final, major impact on Cedar Rapids.

Ask anyone about Armstrong's and three things will definitely come to their lips. They'll talk to you about the escalators, the first time most people had ever seen one. They'd discuss how the store was bigger than anything they'd ever shopped in before. And they'll marvel at how beautiful it was around the holidays. You can revisit that display this holiday season at The History Center. Details here.

Robert and Esther Armstrong owned the iconic business for its last 60 years in business. Robert, a Coe grad, inherited the business from his father at the start of the Great Depression in 1929. When it finally closed in 1991, not long after Robert's death, Cedar Rapids was crushed.

Over the last two decades, the Esther and Robert Armstrong Charitable Trust has gifted $3 million to area organizations. Now, the trust is dissolving and the Gazette reports it's giving $4.2 million to seven different organizations. Each of the seven will receive an equal amount, $600,000. The organizations are:

  • Cedar Rapids Museum of Art
  • Coe College in Cedar Rapids
  • Cornell College in Mt. Vernon
  • St. Paul's United Methodist Church Foundation in Cedar Rapids
  • YMCA of the Cedar Rapids Metro
  • United Way of East Central Iowa
  • Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia

In a statement, Ron Olson, chair of the trust said,

Because it’s distributed and only a certain amount will be spent every year, it will extend the philanthropy of the Armstrongs for many, many years. The trust isn’t dying. Their philanthropy will live on for many years.

Armstrong's Department Store provided an entire century of memories for eastern Iowa shoppers. The family behind it made sure that impact didn't end when shoppers could no longer come through the doors. The money from their trust has, and will, continue to make a memorable impact for years to come.

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