BY HANNAH LESTER
Mark Armstrong was recognized for his work in November as one of Auburn Mayor Ron Ander’s Lamplighter award winners.
Every year, Anders acknowledges the work of a few Auburn residents during his State of the City address.
Typically, these awards are presented as a surprise to the recipients, who have no idea the real reason they are at the state of the city.
This year, Anders awarded six Lamplighter awards. Armstrong was one of these.
Armstrong serves as the executive director of academic partnerships but said most people would probably know him better as the director of Camp War Eagle.
He said that is actually how he became familiar with Anders. Back when Anders and his family were still running Anders Bookstore, Armstrong said they were involved with Camp War Eagle.
Armstrong’s relationship with Auburn dates back to his graduate school days in 1994 when he came to Auburn as a graduate student and worked with orientation.
“I just finished my 25th year as being the director of our orientation programs,” he said.
Ironically, Armstrong said he didn’t have any plans to stay in Auburn after graduation, but like many others in this city, found he couldn’t resist the call of the plains.
“Auburn just — it has this way, I guess,” he said. “I like to tell people Auburn had the foresight to hire me as part of the staff when I finished my master’s [degree], but in reality, it was the first and best opportunity that came along so I took it and now here I am, nearly 30 years later.”
While Camp War Eagle, during the summer, is the busiest season, Armstrong said the whole year is busy and has lots going on.
“Camp really has grown to the point that really, it’s a 12-month-a-year venture,” he said.
Student leaders/counselors have to be hired and trained, meetings must be held with campus partners, plus there is transfer orientation throughout the year.
When Armstrong attended the State of the City this year, he thought he was doing so in support of his wife. Little did he know, they had been planning the surprise well in advance.
“It wasn’t until I was on the stage and saw my parents were there, my in-laws, all of my coworkers — a whole pile of current and former student employees were also there — it wasn’t until then, really, that I was like, ‘Oh this has been known for a while,’” he said.
Armstrong said his wife had to trick him into attending.
She told him that all local principals needed to be at the State of the City, and she asked Armstrong to attend with her.
While he had a previous engagement that night that he coordinated at their church — Operation Christmas Child— he agreed.
Armstrong said the wheels started turning when he heard Anders talking about Camp War Eagle and its leadership.
“I don’t do my job to win awards or with recognition in mind, I do it to help our incoming students and their families feel comfortable and confident about the decision to come to Auburn at a time that could be tense and stressful for them,” he said.
“So it was very kind of Mayor Anders to think of me for this and I’m certainly deeply appreciative of that, but the real lamplighters have been the students that work for us as orientation leaders over the last 25 or 30 years. And when I was standing on the stage, that’s who I was thinking about, actually.”
Camp War Eagle is about helping incoming students and their families feel at home, he said.
“At the end of each orientation session, it’s incredible how many people will just come up to me or to a member of my staff and really express a deep amount of thanks and gratitude,” Armstrong said. “They came in, they were nervous, they were concerned, they weren’t sure, they just had all these insecurities about Auburn and two days later, they leave and they’re so anxious for fall to get here. They’re ready to go.”
While Armstrong said he never planned to stay in Auburn originally, he said he now loves living in Auburn.
“One thing that hasn’t changed in that time is that the people who live here love the city of Auburn,” he said. “And they may not always agree on what’s the best thing for the city, but everyone has the city’s best interests at heart. And I think that’s what makes Auburn such a special place, is everybody wants the best for the city.”