On Feb. 14, Walter Armes' life changed forever.
On his way to cheer for his favorite team, the Whitehall Rams, he suffered a stroke. He spent the next seven weeks in the hospital recovering and receiving rehabilitation.
On April 10, just two short months later, he returned to his seat as president of the Whitehall school board. He would not be able to return to some of his other civic duties until months later -- but Armes proved he was a fighter.
Armes was recognized for his dedication to Whitehall in both June and July, receiving two top honors from the city and the school district.
On June 29, Armes' wife, Jean, led her unsuspecting husband to John Bishop Park, where he was named Citizen of the Year by the Whitehall Community Celebration Association.
Then, on Monday, July 7, during the Whitehall Education Foundation's annual Scholarship Scramble at Jefferson Country Club, Armes was presented with the Living Legend award for his contributions to student and staff achievement in and beyond the classroom.
Armes said he was honored and humbled.
"I enjoy all that I do," said Armes. "I think we all need to give back to our communities.
"Pay forward, if you can."
Armes has been a Whitehall school board member for 21 years and a resident of Whitehall since 1968.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio Northern University, a master's degree from Indiana State University and has completed post-graduate work at Ohio State University. He is a retired educator with experience in Crawford, Lake, Trumbull, Franklin and Licking counties. He also was a teacher and administrator at the Eastland Career Center and a vocational supervisor at the Licking County JVS in Newark.
He continues to supervise field-experience students and student teachers at Ashland University. He also officiates track and field from junior high through college levels.
Through his service to the school district, Armes said he and others have incited positive change.
"We're all in the same community, so it seems to me we should all be working together," he said. "Hopefully, it's a better place because we've been here."
Terry Anderson, chairman of the education foundation, thinks it is.
"Walter has generously served as a longstanding member of the Whitehall Education Foundation as well as the Whitehall board of education. But beyond his civic and academic commitments, Walter is also a prominent official for high school athletics, specifically track and field, and has been an administrator who assists in the development of educators through college preparation and guidance," said Anderson.
"To use his track officiating as an analogy, he is a world-class champion who assures that students and teachers get off to a good start, stay in the appropriate lanes and pathways towards success, while improving the standards and rules that will allow them to succeed at every level.
"We are truly fortunate to have such a charismatic leader in our community."
Armes has been active in the Ohio School Boards Association, receiving the Award of Achievement, Master Board Member award, and a 2011 All Ohio School Board member award. He is a past OSBA Central Region president, OSBA board trustee and executive committee member. Armes is a past member of the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators and Ohio Education Association executive committees.
Armes said he knows he wasn't the only one fighting for his life this year. Others stood strongly behind him.
"I am a very fortunate person," he reflected last week. "I think my recovery will be 100 percent.
"I hope that others know what the symptoms of a stroke are, and that the sooner you receive proper medical help, the better your chances are for a positive recovery."