As many alums and friends are aware, the Fordham family was among the hardest hit by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Among those lost was Michael J. Armstrong, class of 1990 and an avid Fordham basketball supporter.
Armstrong’s family and friends established the Michael J. Armstrong Memorial Foundation, honoring his memory and the qualities and zest for life that made him the unique individual that many loved. Beneficiaries of the endowment have includes such worthy New York area causes as youth development and family support programs in East Harlem; the Child Protection Center at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and the St. Barnabas Hospital Child Advocacy Center, and many others.
“In the days that followed 9/11, we knew we had to do something to carry on Mike’s name and spirit,” said his sister Laura Armstrong-Weaver. “His fiancé, Catherine Nolan, also a Fordham alum was contacted by several of Mike’s Fordham friends about establishing a Foundation in his memory. In some ways those early days are a blur, but I do recall there being lots of phone conferences and meetings as we got the Foundation up and running. Looking back, it was and continues to be a wonderful way to channel our emotions, to ensure that Mike’s legacy lives on, and to impact future generations.”
“Mike was such a vivacious personality, so full of love and laughter, someone who had such presence in our family and among his friends,” added his other sister Marian. He was larger than life itself. In the days and months after 9/11, it became clear to all of us that we needed to find a way to fill the void we all felt. We also realized that Mike’s time with all of us had such a positive and lasting impact that we could draw from it in a concrete way and really help people.
Since 2003, the Foundation has presented the Posse Award, emblematic of the individual who exhibits the spirit, loyalty and friendship that are the award’s chief criteria. On Saturday, Feb. 9, prior to the Rams’ home game against Duquesne, Laura and Marian will present to this year’s honoree, former men’s basketball player Mike Fitzgerald (’65), at a reception at Dagger John’s in the McGinley Hall basement.
Fitzgerald was a three-year letterman, closing out his career in 1964-65 by averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.0 rpg, appearing in all 27 games. He helped the Rams to a 15-12 record that season and an appearance in the NIT, where Fordham fell to Western Kentucky, 57-53.
As a junior in 1963-64, Fitzgerald averaged 2.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 19 games while in his first season with the varsity, 1962-63, he scored 30 points and added 38 rebounds in 19 games. The 1962-63 team finished with an 18-8 record and received a bid to the NIT.
The Foundation’s goal is to perpetuate the principles by which Michael lived every day and through which he made a profound impact on many lives. Through his integrity, determination and compassion, Michael was able to achieve so much in such a short time.
Laura remembers the only Fordham game that she and Mike attended, a few months before his untimely death. “He invited me to join him and his fiancée, Catherine, for a Fordham Rams basketball game at Rose Hill. It was the one and only game we attended together. His passion for Fordham hoops was evident. When Mike died later that year and discussions started about establishing a Foundation in his memory, choosing Fordham Athletics as a primary beneficiary seemed like a natural fit.”
Marian agrees. “Mike truly lived the Jesuit motto of being a man for others, and we wanted his legacy to act in the same spirit. What better way to do this than starting a foundation in his name!”
It is memories like that that Laura says makes the connection between the school and the foundation so strong.
“Since retiring Mike’s season seat in Rose Hill Gym and establishing the Posse Award in his memory,” she added, “we have really become a part of the Fordham family, attending most games and forming friendships with many other die-hard Rams fans. We often think of our love of Fordham basketball and those friendships that have formed as gifts from Mike.”
And though the sisters did not attend Fordham, they’ve always felt welcome as part of the Rams community.
“In the early days after 9/11, we always found comfort in going where we knew Mike would go,” explains Marian. “We had his season tickets and started using them. Sitting in his seats and viewing the games from his perspective, we fell in love. We also started visiting the Ramskellar and fell in love with Fordham people. Many of the Rebounders, salt of the earth people, took us under their wing, telling us stories about Mike we had never heard before. Mike’s Fordham life was was such an unexpected gift to us. Now we bleed maroon too!”
The criteria for the Posse Award are spirit, loyalty, and friendship toward Fordham Basketball. Through the years, the Foundation has been fortunate to witness tremendous dedication to the program from the following worthy past Posse Award recipients:
Ann Marie Kraemer
Brian and Kathy Gordon
Bill Smith, Sr.