El Lago Aquanauts Founder Janet Armstrong Passes Away

June 25, 2018, 9:29 p.m. (ET)

Janet Armstrong, founder and coach of the El Lago (Texas) Aquanauts synchronized swimming team and the former wife of astronaut Neil Armstrong, passed away on June 21, 2018.


Jeanette Chase, a co-coach of the Aquanauts, writes about her friend:


By Jeanette Chase

In 1964 Jan Armstrong contacted Joy Cushman, the Houston Coach of the Shamrock Hilton Corkettes (synchro team) and National AAU Chairman of Synchronized Swimming, to get assistance with converting a “water show team” at the El Lago Keys Club in El Lago Texas, into synchronized competition. Joy sent Jeanette down to the NASA-area pool (El Lago) to accomplish that duty in 1965. 


Jan had done synchronized swimming herself in college and in Florida water shows, sparking an interest in the sport (synchro development, i.e. letters of inquiry in swimming pool specification and lighting requirements etc.). She was quickly involved in the new pool in El Lago and taught some swimming and synchronized swimming (water shows also). 


The water shows at the El Lago Keys Club Pool were very elaborate events with black light and heavily costumed with between 20-30 swimmers involved, with Beth Williams as Jan’s assistant. Jeanette introduced the AAU Synchro rules to the team and named it Aquanauts in honor of the space connection as they registered with the Gulf Association of the AAU. 


As a summer team the girls were trained daily in June and July and entered into the Junior Olympic Synchro competition in four age groups at the end of June 1965 and at Regionals the first part of July. Jan coached the girls with Jeanette as she could with the increased attention to Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon. By that time the Aquanauts placed third in Regionals and qualified to go to the 1969 Senior Nationals in Ohio. The team sold lemonade to the news media that “camped” in the Armstrongs’ front yard to raise money for the trip. Jan had trouble getting to the pool to coach due to the press presence so she ducked out the back and went via a special opening in the side fence to her neighbors’ (the Whites) to get to the pool.


Jeanette was privileged to be invited to the moon launch and present on Life Magazine’s yacht on the Banana River to see the launch. This was the first time an astronaut wife had attended a launch in Florida. Shortly after that the Aquanauts traveled by bus to Ohio with Jeanette for the competition and enjoyed their first attempt at that level. At that National Competition Banquet all the tables were adorned with a Moon Rocket centerpiece, and we watched Neil’s return to Earth shortly after that.  Jan was not able to continue coaching due to her travels with Neil and moved away when he left the space program to teach.


The Aquanauts have continued to train and compete and broadened their schedule to year-round in 1994 when Jeanette retired from teaching college full time. They changed their name to Aquanauts of Clear Lake in United States Synchronized Swimming (no longer a part of the AAU) from the El Lago Aquanauts. The team continues enjoying Jan’s connections on many visits to practices and reunions (especially the 40th) when in town. Her vision was realized and appreciated by all the swimmers since 1964, which include many astronaut daughters as swimmers, wives as coaches, and fathers (including astronauts) as scorers and more. She gave many a wonderful legacy of love and support of synchronized swimming!

A Tribute to Janet Shearon Armstrong by Rick and Mark Armstrong, West Chester, Ohio

It is with great sadness that we share the news that on June 21, 2018, at the age of 84, Janet Shearon Armstrong lost her fierce-hearted battle with lung cancer. She was a loving mother, grandmother, great grandmother, friend, and a wife of test pilot and astronaut Neil Armstrong.


Janet Elizabeth Shearon was born in Wilmette, Illinois, the youngest of three daughters of Dr. Clarence and Louise Shearon. A graduate of New Trier High School, she then attended Purdue University in the School of Home Economics and was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. In 1956, Jan and Neil married and eventually settled in the San Gabriel Mountains on the outskirts of Lancaster, California. From their home in Juniper Hills, Jan could see her husband flying experimental aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in the distance. Together, Jan and Neil would move to Houston, Texas, for the NASA space program, and afterwards to Lebanon, Ohio. After 38 years of marriage, Jan and Neil divorced and she became a resident of Utah, spending time in Deer Valley as well as St. George. Everywhere she went she forged lifelong friendships and frequently attended reunions for not only her high school graduating class, but her kindergarten class as well. In 1964, Jan was the founder and coach of the El Lago Aquanauts synchronized swimming team and remained a supporter and advocate throughout her lifetime. Additionally, she was a founding member of the KIT (Keep-In-Touch) group of astronaut wives that have remained close to this day.


She is survived by two sons, Rick and Mark, daughter-in-law Wendy; and also by six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren who knew her simply as “Cee Cee.” Jan’s second child and only daughter, Karen Anne “Muffie” Armstrong, died from a brain tumor at the age of 2 years, 9 months.


Janet received many awards and honors worldwide as a result of her courage and dedication during the American space program of the 1960s. By all that knew her, she will be remembered as a strong, willful woman who always reunited with a warm smile and parted ways with tears. We ask only that you honor her by standing up for that in which you believe.