When Andy Armstrong's five grown children reminisced recently about their father, it was for all the times he made them laugh -- strict dad though he had been.

Armstrong, 87, died June 4 at New Milford Hospital.

To the end, he brought a smile to the face of his daughter, Patty Humiston, a smile he'd placed there many times over the years.

"Dad had open heart surgery several years ago. They put a cow's valve in and after that, when I'd call, he'd answer the phone `Moo,' " Humiston said. "Even when I called him... at the hospital, `Moo,' he said."

Armstrong had been an iconic figure in his hometown of New Milford.

A 65-year volunteer for New Milford Community Ambulance -- starting in 1946 well before the corps was officially organized -- Armstrong loved and served the town he grew up in in a myriad of capacities.

"You might say New Milford grew up around him," said Craig Weiner, Armstrong's stepson. "He'd talk about growing up on the farm with his two brothers, Ricky and Frank, how they'd swim in the East Aspetuck (River)."

Like most young men of his generation, Armstrong served in the armed forces during World War II.

He joined the Navy in 1942 and served on the U.S.S. Staub, a destroyer escort.

In 1946, Armstrong returned to his hometown and went to work at his uncle Harry Taylor's store, H.H. Taylor & Son. It was there he met Bruce Nearing and began joining Nearing on ambulance runs.

"Andy was at the store for quite a few years," said cousin Harry Taylor III. "He left the store in 1970.

"We always got along well. I thought of him as a great friend. He was my cousin. We grew up together. I've got stories but not for the paper," Taylor said.

Armstrong lived for his family and his town.

He was a longtime member of the Rotary Club, the Masons, the Republican Town Committee and served on the town's Police Commission for 10 years starting in the late 1970s, serving as chairman his last four years.

He also served as president of the state's Police Commissioners Association.

During his years of service to the ambulance corps, Armstrong served as president for 35 years until he stepped back in 2011.

"Andy's death was a loss for us at the ambulance." said Donna Hespe, who became president in 2011. "He was always available to do something you needed.

"He gave so much to every organization he was involved with, she said. "But the New Milford Community Ambulance held a very special place in his heart."

State Sen. Clark Chapin, like Armstrong a native New Milfordite, was high in praise of the man.

"I knew Andy for as long as I can remember," Chapin said. "He was the epitome of community service and countless residents continue to benefit greatly due to his selfless dedication to New Milford."

Armstrong's stepson, Stark Weiner, noted his father's never-ending dedication to whatever role he took on.

"Up to (very recently) he had a great deal of input in the ambulance corps," Weiner said. "They were on the phone with him every day.

"He was the consummate 0ld Yankee. If you described him in one word, it was stubborn -- not in a bad way," Weiner added. "He had a strong opinion of right and wrong. There were rules and, if you broke the rules, there were consequences."

"And it didn't take a word to put you in line, that look did it," Keith Armstrong said of his father.

Armstrong was respected beyond New Milford for his dedication and integrity in every role he filled.

In 2010 he was honored as a Red Cross Hero.

"I have deep respect and admiration for this man because of his dedication to helping his community, and his unwavering commitment," said Bernie Meehan, Roxbury Ambulance Corps president, who had nominated Armstrong.

"I can think of no other person I have met in my 36 years in EMS who is more of an inspiration to me," Meehan said. "Andy was always the quintessential gentleman."

In a 2010 interview with The Spectrum, Armstrong summed up his belief that there are rewards in serving one's town:

"I'd definitely recommend volunteering to young people," Armstrong said. "The amount of people you meet, the friends you make for a lifetime -- and nobody in the corps is better than anybody else.

"Working the ambulance is hands-on helping," he said. "You really got involved because it was just you and one other person there to help."

For Maurice Grossenbacher, Armstrong's friend of 60 years, the loss of his friend marked the end of an epoch in many ways.

"He was one of the straightest shooters of anyone I've every known," said Grossenbacher, a former Police Commission member. "He always did what was right. He was the first one there when you needed someone.

"He was a terrific man, always wanting to help, active in so many things," he said. "And he gave his all to everything he did."

Mayor Pat Murphy lauded Armstrong as "a friend to his community."

"He was a wonderful example of a dedicated citizen," the mayor said. "He helped steer and grow the New Milford Community Ambulance corps to be the organization we rely on today.

"A truly good man with a great sense of humor. He will truly be missed," Murphy said.

For more photographs, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.