As a younger brother of Steve, I thought I might share a few memories and insights I have about his early years.
Steve is the second of the four “Armbruster Boys,” the sons of Joe and Gwen Armbruster. He spent the first seven years of his life Manson, Washington, a small apple orchard town on the shores of Lake Chelan. Both of our parents grew up in Manson, consequently, most of our relatives, including both sets of grandparents, lived there. Our grandparents were some of the first apple growers in that area, leaving their childhood homesteads to try their hand at orcharding.
Manson was an “oasis” for the Armbruster Boys, Steve especially. After moving to Western Washington, we visited Manson often where we were surrounded by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and many cousins. By the age of 13, we would spend our summers in Manson living with and working in the apple orchards for a variety of our relatives. This is where we learned to work hard. Starting work at dawn to avoid the afternoon heat, we would be rewarded by late afternoon swims in Lake Chelan. By age 16, we lived in “pickers’ cabins” during the summer where we learned self-reliance and the enjoyment of independence. We also spent time each summer up in our grandparents’ log cabin in Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan where we would fish and hike in the beautiful North Cascades. Without Manson and Stehekin, our lives and values would have been very different.
It seems like Steve was always outgoing and an experimenter. He had his first job in Seattle at the age of 12 where he worked for a small grocery store boxing groceries and cleaning up the store after hours. Before karaoke was ever invented, Steve and his good friend and coworker would turn up the store’s PA system full blast and sing along with the music. Graduating from high school in the late 60’s, he was in the forefront of the “Hippie Revolution.” If it was new and different, Steve gave it a try. Long hair, music festivals, meditation, yoga, granola, you name it, Steve tried it. Steve introduced Jeff and I, his younger brothers, to all of these experiences.
As most of you know, Steve was a doer. The good part about was that he would include both Jeff and I in his adventures. Where most older brothers would exclude their younger siblings, we always got to tagalong. On one trip, Steve and I hitch-hiked across the United States, flew to London, bicycled to Paris, and hitchhiked the rest of the way to Greece and Crete. Jeff and I went with Steve several times to surf the coast of Washington and hike in the Cascades.
Steve was especially resourceful. Jeff and I lived with Steve many times during our college years in Bellingham. While individual college students could not receive food stamps, we were able to because we were brothers and a family. Back then, you had to meet with a social worker to receive monthly food stamps. Before that meeting, Steve would grill us about what to say and not say and instructed us to have him do most of the talking. His whole goal was for us to receive the food stamps with $0 co-pay. He took it as a personal insult if we had to pay anything more than that. In his mind, that also meant we had to live on just food stamps for the month. One month, we ate nothing but lentils every night at Steve’s insistence in that they were the perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates.
As you know, Steve was a fountain of energy that was infectious. He always had something in the works and was quite ingenious, which made him a favorite with our dad and relatives. Starting with Granny Vi’s recipe for apple butter and selling that at the farmers’ market, to recognizing a growing demand for espressos and introducing that to Halifax, he got things done. Steve seemed to always be searching for something trying a variety of activities, meditations, and practices, and finally settling on Buddhism. I’m glad he found that peace. He was a wonderful grandson, son, and brother to all of us back here in Washington. We will miss him dearly.
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