Ed Bressette: Renaissance Man

From solar panels and weather balloons to facilities director at Camp Seymour: Yes, he can.

Bressette with his pride and joy 1974 VW camper van named “Rosemarie.”
Bressette with his pride and joy 1974 VW camper van named “Rosemarie.” Richard Miller

Ed Bressette wants to make his little corner of the world a better place. That desire made him a lifelong learner. It led him to a career at the YMCA. It is why he’s fascinated by alternative energy. And it has made him a beloved figure in his community.

He grew up in a small town near Saratoga Springs, New York. Poor hearing and mild dyslexia marked him as a poor student. He was bullied and told at school that he would never amount to anything. That, he said, ultimately made him stronger. “You cannot tell me I can’t do something. I will go out of my way to prove that I can do anything that I put my mind to.”

His parents were supportive, and he often worked alongside them — his mother a talented seamstress and father a VW mechanic. He worked with a local carpenter. The family moved to Gig Harbor in 1988 when Bressette was a senior in high school to be closer to his mother’s parents.

He hoped to study mechanical engineering, but he couldn’t get the financial aid he needed.

He worked in construction and as a boat builder. He discovered country dancing and met his future wife, Dana, a horticulturist with an interest in native plants, at a dance in Tacoma. They camped, hiked and continued to go to dances, sometimes at the Key Peninsula Civic Center. Less than a year later, in 1993, they married and moved to a place on Lackey Road.

Ed applied for a job at YMCA Camp Seymour as a technician, for $6.10 an hour — he knew he could earn money with side jobs, but he wanted a steady paycheck.

Later, they purchased 6 acres in Lakebay and Ed designed a house with high ceilings to make the 1,100 square feet feel roomier. They discovered the cost of getting power to the site was prohibitive. “Why pay that for the privilege of paying an electric bill for the rest of my life?” Ed said. He found a solar system in the Little Nickel — his chief source for building materials in pre-internet days — and decided to go off grid.

Ed knew nothing about solar panels. He went to the library, talked to people who had experience, and drew analogies from his knowledge of cars. The solar system powered his tools, and works well to this day. He went on to form a small non-profit to help others install systems.

“Everything new I learn is like a language,” Ed said. “Once you learn a few languages, learning the next one is easy. I can take what I learned with my hands and a new problem is like another problem with variations. Plus, you learn from your mistakes.”

Ed is known for his inability to say no to someone in need of repairs. It may be a single mother with a failed heating system, the coffee machine at Close to Home Espresso where he meets with a regular group most mornings, or the brakes on his daughter-in-law’s Beetle.

When his son, Sky, was in middle school Ed worked with Richard Miller, Sky’s science teacher, building, launching and predicting the flight pattern of helium weather balloons with cameras and tracking devices. Ed’s living room was covered with equipment for five years. The two also established a nonprofit to bring more science activities to local schools.

“Ed is a Renaissance man. If I were going to go across country and I wanted someone that could help me out of any jam, it would be him,” Miller said. “I’d take him over some of the Ph.D.s I have been around. No guile, no ego, no drama. He has a heart of gold.”

A few years ago, Ed bought a 1974 VW camper van. He rebuilt it with solar panels to power his cooler and lights. On their last road trip to Oklahoma, investigating Dana’s midwestern family roots, Ed didn’t have the tools he needed when the car broke down. They were towed to a local garage where, he said, “I was able to teach the young mechanic a few things and the mechanic let me use his tools.”

Recently he returned to sewing. He designed and constructed his own lightweight backpacking gear, customized to accommodate his equipment. He thinks it may turn into a quasi-retirement business. And he’s been making masks of his own design, using a fabric he says has better than N95’s filtering capacity.

Aside from a few years in the for-profit construction business — a time he described as miserable — Ed spent his working career at the YMCA. He spent four years at the Tacoma branch before returning to Camp Seymour, where he was the property manager for 13 years. He was part of its transformation from a camp with 12 cabins with cold water to an environmentally focused state-of-the-art destination.

In late 2019, Ed was promoted to facilities director for the entire Pierce-Kitsap County YMCA. Four months later COVID-19 reared its head. Programs and buildings closed for six months.

YMCA President and CEO Charlie Davis said that Ed has been a lifeline. “He has literally saved the Y millions of dollars repairing and solving very complex problems, but even more than the repair itself is his keen ability to see the problem before it reaches a critical stage. He is so gifted, and what he may not know, he studies and soon discovers. Even now, we are operating with a very small team of loyal staff. Ed travels from Sumner to Silverdale on a daily basis to help solve problems. I cannot imagine our Y without him. He literally is keeping us afloat,” he said.

Ed said he’s been thinking a lot about biases lately.

When acquaintances complain that current lumber or fuel prices are due to the current administration, he shakes his head. “I learned a lot about the supply chain during the pandemic. It is way more complicated.

“I have learned there are multiple ways to fix things and there are multiple ways to run things in life,” he said. “We need to be more accepting of all. We all bleed blood, it’s all red. If you look at the history of wars it is because people get all riled up about their thoughts being right.”