Folks silently removed their hats and put their hands over their hearts as Scott Armacost ’82 played “Taps” on his trumpet at dusk. “No one exchanged words before or after,” says Scott’s daughter, Samantha Armacost ’16, of the short ceremony at Lover’s Leap overlooking the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri. “It was moving because everyone knew what it meant.”
This solemn reaction is not a surprise to the father-daughter duo. Each evening, Scott, a U.S. Navy veteran, plays the traditional military funeral hymn in memory of those whose deaths were related to COVID-19. The commemoration has given extraordinary purpose to the Armacosts’ current multi-month paddling trip down the Mississippi in a 17-foot canoe, an adventure they’ve named “A River Eulogy.”
To accommodate the excursion, Scott works remotely as a financial advisor. Samantha is a professional outdoor guide with the skills to navigate the trip, and she has completed this year’s seasonal employment. They are more than halfway into their 2,300-mile southerly journey, which began on Aug. 16 at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, and will end at the Gulf of Mexico before Thanksgiving.
The long-planned adventure was originally a way to celebrate Scott’s September birthday, “but we also wanted to make the trip about more than just ourselves,” says Samantha. “COVID-19 is a universal experience right now, and so many people weren’t able to have or attend in-person memorials or funerals.”
Scott and Samantha are the grandson and great-granddaughter of George Henry Armacost, U of R’s president from 1945 to 1970. On their trip, the two are realizing a goal that so many Bulldogs hope to achieve: helping others in need.
So, at each day’s end, no matter where they are docked, Samantha livestreams as Scott plays, and she includes the names of people who have died with the post. “I wanted to bring it back to the people and not just the number of lives lost,” she says. Sometimes at sundown, Scott and Samantha are alone on a sandbar, with fellow trekkers at a campground, or staying at a host’s home. “People usually cheer or clap or cry,” says Samantha.
It’s also “fun being partners in this,” she says of the sometimes-daunting days paddling against the elements in a drought-lowered river and the ever-changing weather, including what Samantha and Scott joke is “their old friend the southeast wind.”
The voyage is documented on Instagram and their website with help from Scott’s wife and Samantha’s mom, Miho Armacost, in Oakland, California. Friends can follow their progression down the river as they raise money for two charities through GoFundMe pages: Tragedy Assistance Program Fund for Survivors (coincidentally known as T.A.P.S.) and Direct Relief, which provides medical support to those in need.
In the last days of their journey, Samantha hopes even more people will share the names of loved ones lost, and they’ll be remembered at their evening bugle call. “We know this is a rare experience,” she says of being able to take time off for such an ambitious trip with her dad. “It’s been amazing.”