Verdugo Views: Friend's scar inspires a teacher to write

February 15, 2013|By Katherine Yamada
  • Jean Armstrong, also known as "Jungle Jenny," takes a ride in her personalized pedicab in Bangkok, Thailand, circa 1950.
Jean Armstrong, also known as "Jungle Jenny,"… (Photo courtesy…)

Jane Hancock and her family moved to a house on Edmonton Road in 1961. “I fell in love with the house and the neighborhood the moment I saw it.”

The weekend after they moved in, their neighbors invited them to a party and there she met Jean Armstrong.

Hancock and Armstrong became friends; their children grew up together and went to the same schools.

Hancock knew that Armstrong had a mysterious scar but never knew of her adventurous past. That is, until recently.

Hancock and her husband Fred raised five boys and taught English and social studies, journalism and media at Toll Junior High from 1962 until 1992.

Then, as she puts it, she “crossed the road (Glenwood Road) to Hoover High,” teaching English and social studies for five more years.

When she retired, she became full-time co-director of the UCLA Writing Project, part of a huge network of writers in the United States.


Even though she had been teaching writing for many years, the Writing Project turned her into a “writer,” she said. “I found a group of people who liked to write, who liked to talk about writing, who appreciated each others' efforts and who helped turn those efforts into something publishable.”

Meanwhile, Armstrong was a very active docent at the Los Angeles Zoo. Her husband, Don, was involved in the family's bail bond business; established years before on Wilson Avenue by his father, Cecil Armstrong.

“Jean kept her story hidden for quite a few years,” said Hancock. “We all knew she had been attacked. We saw the scar running the full length of her arm.”

But recently, with their children grown and gone from home, the two women had more time to talk. Armstrong told Hancock the rest of her story, beginning when she was 14 years old and her mother died.

She became a foster child to a couple named Foehl. He traveled overseas to collect exotic animals and import them into the U.S.

Armstrong began working with him, learning the tricks of the trade, and before he died in 1948, he encouraged her to follow in his footsteps.

When she was just 23 years old, Armstrong sailed to Singapore to collect her first animals.

For several years, she continued to bring in animals, then, shortly after a particularly exciting assignment involving the leopard that left that scar, she met a young sailor.

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