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Stories about Steve

Growing up in Saint Margaret’s Bay and going to Shambhala Middle School meant that I had to be a part of the dreaded car pool made up of other Dharma Brats, some in the single digits and others young teenagers. I don’t think anyone liked being a part of the carpool, least of all our parents. 


However it was not without its perks. Somedays we would be lucky enough to drive through the then very new Steve-O-Reno’s Cappuccino, which was a very ambitious and innovative concept – those days were the good days.  I think that is where I had my very first smoothie. Even as a punk kid I saw the passion, enthusiasm and dedication that Steve poured into his business. It impressed me at the time and it still does. 


An other perk were the rare days that Steve would have his turn at herding us kids into the Volvo. He was energetic, funny and related to the kids on a very real level.


Except one day things got a little too real, even a bit scary. Sometime previous to this drive I had been messing around with Erik who was younger than me and although I liked him, sometimes I did what young boys do to even younger boys and gave him noogies etc. Erick definitely deserved all of this. One day I stepped it up a bit and picked Erik up off the ground, by his ears. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. Steve must have been waiting for his moment, and after he dropped everyone in the carpool off (I was the last kid on the route) and it was just me and him, he tore into me and made sure I never did anything like that to Erik again. I don’t think I stopped entirely, but I definitely toned it down. After he made his point, he slapped me on the thigh in such a way that it stung, and said “I’m glad we got that outta the way” and went on like everything was normal – which it was. I was very scared of Steve for awhile but I always admired him. 


As we grew up he’d end up hiring some of my friends and peers to tend his coffee enterprise. Everyone I knew had a lot of respect for him and his entrepreneurial spirit. 


Lots of love to Steve and the other Arm Busters.

-Ash MacLeod

We began working with him at Steve-o-Renos soon after starting our roasting business and quickly became close. He was a very kind and genuine person, who really listened and was interested in peoples’ lives. Some of my best memories with him were during our informal meetings, which would often be outdoors, a ‘board meeting’ surfing at Lawrencetown Beach, or walking the dog at Point Pleasant Park or on forest trails. He also took the time to come up for an occasional visit to our place, hours away from home to see how the kids were doing and have a visit. Our conversations sometimes went on for hours, as we swapped stories of our pasts and contemplated the big picture and meditative traditions.

Steve had a big part in getting our business off the ground. Along with his wife Rita and daughter Melissa, their well-established family business took a big risk to help our fledgling family business by taking us on as their coffee roaster, when we had almost no track record. Steve gave us continuous feedback based on his decades of experience in the café business and helped us fine-tune the coffees. Steve-o-renos gave us the chance we needed to prove ourselves and got the word out about our little roasting company.

Although we miss his big heart already, we feel grateful to have known Steve and to have shared in a small part of his life experience.


Austin and Stephanie Anderson

In remembrance of Steve, a fellow sailor, a 'big kid' and a lover of adventure. I bought his little sailboat "Ziji" from him over a decade ago, and through the process got to know Steve. It was my first boat, I was a bit overwhelmed and Steve was quick with encouragement and a pat on the back; he shared some of his adventures and misadventures with 'Ziji' and we had a some laughs. There was good energy with Steve and good energy with Ziji. I've since sailed Ziji up and down the coast of Nova Scotia and all the way to Florida....Ziji has been a fantastic and magical little boat that has seen me through some incredible adventures. Steve was responsible for Ziji's namesake which connotes 'light', 'brilliance', 'confidence', 'dignity' and it indeed these qualities seemed to have been imbued into the spirit of the boat. Even my email address, zijionhtesea@yahoo.ca, carries this word passed on by Steve, and so it is with gratitude and fond memories that I thank Steve for bringing Ziji into my life. Fairwinds Steve!

My very best wishes to his family,

David John Williams

Perhaps 10 years back, I found myself in a small pub in the beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan and was introduced by the bartender to another English speaking westerner.


As we worked our way through introductions and reasons for being in this area at that time, I discovered he held the same spiritual background as a friend back home in Halifax.


I mentioned that casually and as he discovered that my home was in Nova Scotia, he began elaborating in an incredibly articulate fashion on the origins of Steve's arrival in NS via this Shambhala family he valued so much.


He still did not know my friends name, but that came up next. And of course, yes he knew him. Not just knew of him, but actually knew him. Having met in the west of the U.S., and even once hiking with him some 30 years back.


It was a significant portion of what turned out to be an incredibly enjoyable three hour chat.


I walked back to my hotel that night and thought about Steve. Not in the way I am thinking about him now. Then, it was lighter.


It was along the lines at marveling, smiling  at the life experiences he had, the risks he took, the lifestyle he committed to.


I have been dropping in as a regular to Steve's java hut for at least 15 years, but it was only around this same time frame - say ten years back - that I found that either Steve or I, or possibly us both, opened up and began to chat in more personal detail.


We both jogged and on occasion got to a park and found ourselves diving into some very interesting conversations that carried some real weight with me, post run.


His sense of adventure truly blew me away. It inspired me, even to my own surprise and I looked forward to the mornings when he would be in the shop and smiling, asking how a weekend run went. Then telling me of one of his own as well as his most recent aches and pains.


It's difficult when an everyday presence is removed this way. I hope that everyone who cares for Steve knows his legacy does remain.


My best wishes are with Steve's family.


G. Jones

I had the pleasure of meeting Steve when I became a new vendor at the Halifax Forum Farmer's Market. He felt like an old friend immediately, giving me business advice whether I had asked for it or not. His face was always one I enjoyed seeing and I could always count on an exchange of witty banter or a story from his childhood, no matter how early in the morning on the weekend. In addition to our entrepreneurial spirits, we also shared a love of driving a Blue Honda fit.  In fact, last Sunday on my way to the Seaport market, there was a Honda Fit driving in front of me and I was so looking forward to seeing Steve's smiling face since I hadn't seen him since before the holidays. It took me down the road of remembering some of his more wacky suggestions to me; his most adamant being  that I dress up as a cabbage to promote my product at the market. He was the first thing on my mind that day as I walked in and I had a smile on my face from this memory, so the news hit extra hard. There will definitely be a void in the markets and the community without our Steve-O-Reno.


I am so sorry for your loss. 


Thank you for sharing my story,


Jessie Palmer

I remember Steve from many years ago when he had a small booth at the Brewery Farmers' Market. It was set inside a cubbyhole in the wall of an extra wide doorway. He sold freshly-squeezed orange juice. At least I think that was him. It was such a tiny space: just room for Steve and his juicer.

Lynn Rotin

We almost opened a cafe together once. You were the coffee guy, I was the dessert lady. I loved your coffee and your kindness. So sad your Journey is over. We were good at what we loved Steve. Hugs from Unni.

Unni Simensen

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.

Rod Armbruster (Steve's younger brother)

Here's a little story about Steve as a teenager.


I'm the youngest of four boys. Steve was 'the second oldest brother'. He was always very cool and I idolized him in a lot of ways. In those days Steve took up surfing, of all things, in Washington State. The waters are frigid and the waves are usually blown out. I remember one time when Steve and a friend--Mark?-- decided to head out and surf on the Peninsula. He was a teenager and doubtless had no interest in having his 12 year old brother come along on this adventure. But he also knew that my older brother Rod and I would love to tag along, so sure enough he brought us. I remember that on the drive out he and his buddy were trying out smoking cigarettes. At one point Steve took a drag and breathed out into a tissue paper. The paper was smeared with tar. Steve said something like, "this crap is going into my lungs!!??!" and he put out the cigarette. I was watching the whole thing.


We got to the beach and there was a dead whale on shore. It stank. Neither my brother Rod nor I had ever been on a surfboard, but we paddled out a bit and rode the shore break back in. Steve and his friend paddled out beyond the breakers and parked there. It was cold and grey as usual and we had a fire going on the beach. I was hungry and tossed an unopened can of beans into the fire to heat it up. As luck would have it Rod and I were a bit away from the fire when it exploded. Another lesson learned.


The dead whale was huge and when Steve and his friend came back from the water we went over to investigate. The stench was awful. At one point Steve picked me up and threw me onto the whale. (I'm not prettying things up here!) Everyone but me laughed. The thing is, this whole trip has stayed with me all of my life--including the sensation of that whale underfoot. Probably Steve was expressing a teenager's resentment about having his kid brother around on a great trip out into the world. But he took me along--that's the important thing. 


When I entered high school I met up with the two other students who were surfers, both older than me. Now I started surfing with them out on the peninsula during the weekends. Extraordinary adventures for a kid with no car. These were the happiest moments of my high school life. They wouldn't have happened without Steve.


When I graduated high school I was adrift. I had no sense of what to do with my life. I was depressed and in a bit of despair. Steve was working during the summer with a collective out of Bellingham called Happy Trails, that contracted to do trail work with the National Park Service in the Cascades. He hooked me up with this group and sent me out into the wilderness to work with college men and women. I was in awe. I took to that life like a duck to water. More importantly, I could see a way forward. At a time when my life could have gone seriously sideways, or crashed, Steve was there to see that this didn't happen. Rod, Steve and I worked with Happy Trails during several more summers. Out of this I formed a deep love for wilderness and mountains that has stayed my whole life.


Two nights before Steve died I dreamed that we were together. In the dream there was some unspecified anger and conflict. Towards the end, we both sat down and meditated together (oh yes Steve showed me meditation when I was a teenager too.) We shared a deep meditation--I could sense him with me in the meditation; we were both in the same meditative state. I don't know that I've ever meditated in a dream before. It was beautiful. It was beautiful that we were together sharing that peace.


There's so much more. I miss Steve already. I can only thank everyone who shared Steve's life in Halifax and made it so rich and full. I know that you miss him too.


-Jeff Armbruster (Steve's youngest brother)



That's some of how he was. When I was in high school, Steve would have me up to visit him at college in Bellingham. And when I went off to the same college with no idea how to manage anything, he showed me around and kept tabs on me

He is the second oldest of four sons of Joe and Gwen. We all grew up in the ape orchards surround8ng Lake Chelan. This 8cludes our parents and grandparents parents. Your great grandparents. We all learned the value family from our grand parents , parents aunts uncles and cousins. We learned of I terrify, morals, and the value of work and our spoken words. Our grandpa Jim and father taught us that if you were paid for 8 or 9 hours 9f work you worked for an extra 15 minutes . . Steve was the first hippy in the family as he started college. He was the first of all of the cousins s to travel extensively about the country and Europe. He also was in Africa as a member of the Youth Corp. He still is the only one else of all cousins s to have the most e,tensile college education. He loved Lake Chelan, the family history on both sides of our family. The Finley and the Armbruster. He spent a lot of time since early childhood thru his adult life at the head of Lake Chelan in the Stehekin Valley in the North Cascades. When we went to the log cabin acquired by Grandpa Jim, we worked on the upkeep of the cabin. As well as learning to flip fish and drink beer. This cabin property was influetial in all our upbringings. And still was for Steve, his brothers, and cousins. Truly a family retreat. Steve as well as all of his brothers and cousins learned a lot from his grandparents and parents. We were lucky to have this extended family.

Dick Armbruster (oldest brother)

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