Phil Burress Memorial

For our Dad, our Husband, our surrogate father, and our friend.

Early mornings

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a Dad-length work day is like. How he’d wake me early, when the hour hand was in single-digits I thought were reserved for dinner time. We’d start the day, it seemed, before anyone else knew the world existed. Where he could finish tasks before others would start their day so that they could start their day easier. And somehow it always seemed like we were the last to leave and lock the gate behind us.

He’d do that when he came over to work on my house, too. I’d wake up when the hour hand got to double digits only to find that half the job was done and oil was already seeping into my aging asphalt from a cheaply maintained — but functional — minivan. And if the job couldn’t be started without me for some reason, he’d find weeds to pull out or another task to complete. And in the evening, we’d hardly notice the sun had dipped behind the apartment building as we finished up whatever project was at hand.  If there was still something that could be done, then it would get done. You could never keep up with that work ethic.

Yet, four years after he woke me up too early for the last time, I can still hear the small regret in his hospital-bed statement, “There’s so much left to do.” Even as it approached the time for him to rest, he only thought about the work he had yet to do for others. This sentiment sticks with me today as I try to find ways to complete those tasks still yet to be done and find ways to make the day easier for others. I try to wake up early, but struggle to match the example set for me. Even though the days since he left us seem longer, a Dad-length work day just isn’t quite the same anymore.


It’s important to do something dumb every once in a while.

4th of July (or maybe New Year’s?). Slingshot. M-80’s.

Well after sunset, the neighborhood was still exploding with the flashes of celebration brought on by the holiday. We may not have had an arsenal of various store parking lot purchased rockets and sparklers at our disposal but we had a slingshot and some moderately illegal explosives that dad had purchased some years back from the usual place that all longtime Washingtonians know of. I don’t recall what the siblings were doing at the time, but it seems like this event was just dad and I on the back porch being blissfully dumb. The plan was that he’d hold the M-80 in the stretched out slingshot and I’d light it. The reality went: streeeeeeeeeeetch. “okay.” flick. light. sparklesparklesparklesparklesparkle… SNAP!

As the rubber band of the slingshot failed to perform its required task and the notoriously dangerous explosive fell to the deck, I stepped back to marvel at the cat-like reflexes of the not-so-young and not-so-fit man in front of me as he scooped up the 1.5 inch dismemberment-dealer and flung it out into the yard. It exploded in mid-air near some young trees and I didn’t even bother to cover my ears. Amazing. Let’s do another one. We abandoned the slingshot and my dad risked losing digits several more times for the explosive delight of doing something moderately stupid.

You’d think we’d learn. However, the next explosive holiday rolled around and the slingshot was dug out and a few more M-80’s appeared. Back to the back porch for a second try. Unfortunately, the same results from that duplicitous slingshot and my father was forced to risk limbs to clear the danger. Much to our shared glee. A few more hand-held launches and another evening of risking a lot for a little fun came to a close.

I believe it was the next summer that our M-80 shenanigans continued. No, we’ll never learn. Dad was the scoutmaster and I a terrible and reluctant scout (Tenderfoot for life!). We were on some trip where we managed to camp by a lake. The rest of the motivated scouts went out on rafts or canoes into the small lake. It must have been pretty far east, because I remember the late afternoon sun lit up the floor of dried pine needles as it filtered through a pretty substantial forest. A couple of the other slackers were down the bank to my left working out how to use a sling to hurl rocks into the lake when my reliable father brought out the unreliable slingshot and the paper bag that carried a glorious selection of red cylinders with green wicks sticking out the side. I don’t know if you know this, but M-80’s are waterproof. If they land on the lake, they will sink until they explode. Glorious! Well, the slingshot cooperated (finally!) and the little cylinders sparkled in that late afternoon glow, landed with a satisfying ploop! and sunk a few inches before thoroughly frightening the good kids. I think it was just the scoutmaster’s way of teaching them how to row faster. There was no way we’d reach them with our artillery, but the crack of fright in their early teen voices was real and after two or three more salvos our minor guilt waded through our tears of joy and we called it a day.

Our shared exuberance for all things M and 80 continued as I aged. I may have have planted one in a backyard tree and scrambled down as it counted 5-4-3-2-1-BOOM! I might have blown something up with one. After a while, I learned how to buy my own (“Do you have anything bigger?” wink wink) and discovered they made things bigger than M-80s. Then, the feds cracked down and ruined all the fun. I believe it was after the supply ran out that I discovered or was gifted the paper bag and carefully rationed the last of the illicit supply. I don’t remember what we did with the last one, but I’m sure it was irresponsible and dumb.

And fun.

story from Dennis Thompson

Wow.  This hit pretty hard.  My sincerest condolences to the Family.  I worked for Phil in his service station;  “Phil’s Texaco,” as I recall.  I was moon-lighting for Phil in my earlier years at the ‘phone company and that would have been around 1970.


The old story I always understood was that when Phil was pulling an early Ford flathead V8 motor, he’d unhook everything and lift the engine out using only both arms and no mechanical assistance.  Being around Phil I always believed it.


Phil, myself, and two nice young ladies double dated once.  We went to the Vancouver, B.C.,’s West End.  At the evening’s end we returned to the pay parking lot to find my car had been towed.  I’d overlooked the week-end pricing fine print.  We had to take a cab to China Town to find my car.  Not a nice neighborhood.  I was not too worried because I knew there was not enough Chinese population in Vancouver to overcome Phil should the occasion require any action.  So with Phil there we had no trouble retrieving my car.


A word about Phil’s mother:  Ruth is a very nice lady.  I knew her from the telephone company.  She was always very pleasant and nice to be around.  My Best Wishes to Ruth.


I’ve had to leave the congestion of Skagit County for a quieter and drier area in Eastern Washington, so I cannot be at your Celebration at my old Cleveland School.  But my thoughts and prayers will be with you on the 14th.

Dennis Blake Thompson

Odessa/Ritzville, WA

Story from Al Kun

I’ve been thinking about you guys.   I know its silly, I only spent a few hour with your dad, but he made a pretty profound impact on me. In my odd experiences, I have been around very few father aged people who projected ” you guys are doing good, we’ll get this done, and its going to be fun.” just general confidence and positive outlook.   I’ll never forget him on the Saturday night at Olympus, helping me straighten out the corner I’d bashed up. He kept joking and pestering me until I let some of my insane stress go and enjoyed how bad I was fucking up, which turned out to not be too bad.  Also, no BS, when he drove my truck he adjusted the seat so that is was so comfortable, I carefully didn’t move it for months, and when someone did move it I threw a hissy fit.

I’ve been remembering what an old friend said when my dad was going.  He told me to think of it as him passing me the torch, and making room in the center of the stage.

-Al Kun

story from Jenn Stebbings

I’m not entirely sure where to start.  The last time I saw your dad was at one of Suzie’s roller derby bouts.  You told me where the family was sitting and when I went over there he smiled and gave me a hug.  It had to have been at least 10 years since I had seen him last.  He asked what I had been up to and seemed genuinely interested to hear my ramblings.  It really touched me that he remembered me after all those years.

I remember coming over to your house A LOT when we were together.  One of the things I will never forget is how welcoming and instantly family-like your parents made me feel.  I imagine many of your friends have said the same thing but for me it was terribly important.  I don’t know if I ever mentioned this to you, but your dad was the first REAL example I ever had of what a dad is supposed to be like.  I never had that in my own house and so I guess I craved being around that environment.  Sounds cheesy probably, but I want him to know how much of a difference it made to me.  I knew “real” fathers existed after meeting your dad.  After you left for college, I didn’t have enough courage to go over to the house just to visit your folks because what teenager does that?  But I really did miss seeing them, and when your dad remembered me at Suzie’s bout, it brought back a lot of those great memories.

Do you remember the time when you and I left for dinner or a movie or something shortly after I had a fender-bender with the Volvo?  When we came back from wherever it was we went, your dad had pulled out the crunched fender while we were gone.  I couldn’t believe it.  I might have cried.  Why someone would do something so sweet and generous without provocation was beyond me.  I was over the moon.  And your dad just smiled like it was no big deal.  Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to him.  But it certainly was a huge deal to me.

And the weekend I spent with your family going up to BC for a corn festival will also be with me forever.  Now, every time I drive past the exit for that place when on my way to visit my grandparents in Canada it always triggers that memory.

I could go on and on but I won’t.  It breaks my heart that your dad is fighting this battle.  It doesn’t seem fair.  I wish I could come up there with you to hold his hand and smile at his sweet face and let him know in person how much his presence has meant to me.  The magnitude of which his kindness has had on my life is not easily expressed over an email, but I hope it will suffice for now.  Please give him, and the rest of your family, all my love and know that all of you are in my heart and thoughts.  And if there is ANYTHING I can do, ANYTHING AT ALL that will help your family, please do not hesitate to let me know.  I want to be there for you in any way I can.

Love to you all,

Jenn Stebbings

story from Dan Watson

I never had a strong father figure in my life. My own father fell victim to a downward spiral of drugs and suicide. I grew up feeling bitter, but resolute that I could face the world as my own man. Too often, my pride got in the way and I ended up struggling to learn life’s hardest lessons. Though I had no one to teach me how to become an better person, I set out to do the best I could. I was lonely and distraught inside but, I put on a happy face for others to see and made sure I was kind and giving in every way that I could. I gave everything that I could, sacrificing much so that other people could prosper or even just survive. I wanted to inspire others to do the same, rising above the social norm of only looking out for yourself, to be truly altruistic and helping others just because it was the right thing to do. I haven’t met many that were willing to take up that lifestyle, and I grew evermore cynical to the future of the human race.


Then I met Uncle Phil.


At first, he was the just the loudest person in the room at holiday gatherings, his cheerful laugh conjuring images of Santa Claus and mighty voiced lumberjacks, filling a room with mirth and good tidings. Then as I came to know him better, he was the man with the rapier wit and risque humor, ready to turn any story into a bawdy joke. Finally, I knew him as a man of pure heart and selfless giving. He stepped up to offer Loni and I a house to stay in over the summer, while we transitioned between community college and the university. Many a night, he stayed up with us, sharing soda’s while we swapped stories of family, conquests, and memories long past. Through his help, I was able to finally recognize some of the more fundamental truths about what it is to be a man. To stand on my own two feet, to be confident and strong, while at the same time being gentle and kind. Anytime a need arose, he offered to help. The only payment he demanded was that we try our best and appreciate what we have.


Well my wife and graduated college in 2010. Loni became the proud owner of two degrees, one in Microbiology and the other in Genetics. She put forward her best efforts and the extra work needed to secure two degrees in some of the most difficult career fields around. I graduated magna cum laude with an Honors degree in the Fine Arts and the first ever art student to receive the President’s Award from Washington State University. I also founded a student group that created philanthropic programs and developed arts education classes for kids.


After graduation, we welcomed our daughter, Liliara, into the world. I became a full time, stay-at-home father and had the amazing experience of becoming the very man that I was always searching for. I have Phil to thank for that.


My wife is taking the next step in her career path, by becoming a Food Safety Plant Manager, creating protocols and developing criteria for keeping others safe. I have continued on in my studies and have been offered a full scholarship for graduate school at both Carnegie Mellon and the University of Bologna in Italy.


Well, Uncle Phil. We did the best we could and we kicked school’s ass. We reaped the rewards for our efforts and we are ready to take the next step with our lives. You were a huge part in that and I can never thank you enough. I will continue on helping others, to give when I can, and to honor your memory by passing on that amazing spirit and outlook that you possessed. While I am not there in body, I am here in words. I raise a root beer in toast to you good sir and will always remember you as the both the man and the father that I always wanted to meet and that one day I will become.


Love ya big guy.


Dan Watson





story from Joe Smith

I did not Phil as Sandy; he was just Phil to us in the Class of 1960.  My brother Peter always talked about Phil and his mother Ruth.  They seem to go to their place during the holidays and would call me about the good time they had.


In school Phil was the strong guy on and off the field.  One evening several of us were out to no good and just happen to stop and see Phil working on his old car.  He had the motor out of it.  The motor block was lying on the garage floor, now this was a V-8 motor block just lying there, when Phil walked over to it and put his arms into the cinders and lifts it up and carried it over to the car.  From that time on Phil was Mr. Burress.


May we all be strong in our heart and be help to all our friends like Sandy


Joe Smith  Class of 1960 MVHS

Colville, Washington

story from Bob Parkinson

Name: Bob Parkinson

Comment: Phil and I rounded out the backfield of the highschool football team with John Day and Bruce Wilson. What I remember was Phil’s fast start to get to the line of scrimmage. And then there were the few times I would get signals mixed and we would colide in the backfield head to head.  Fortumately, all those were in practice that i remember.  And for those of us who were in the locker room at half time know that we could not stay unconsious long with the bark of Coach Leo (Bud) Hake in our face! Those were fun times.


I had no contact with Phil after highschool except perhaps at one of the few reunions that I have attended. However, the close relationship that we had on the football team cemented an image in my mind of a focused and dedicated man and his life story certainly measures up to my picture of Phil.


Like all of you I will miss Phil, a great Bulldog.

How you knew Phil: Highschool Classmates

story from John Kirkpatrick

Phil Burress – The Man

You hear it all the time in sports. “You the man!” You hear buddies saying to each other, and family men barking it at most any competition. “You the man!” When I look back at my time with Phil and his family growing up, I don’t think of Phil as an athlete, or an overly competitive guy, or a hardnosed rough around the edges man’s man. Sure if you just met Phil for the first time all you might notice is his scruffy face, his dirty and sometimes ripped t-shirt, his jeans with paint or grease stains, and his wild windblown white and grey hair. I could see how sometimes this would make him a bit intimidating at first glance. But it never took long to change that perspective. To me, Phil was definitely a guy I looked up to growing up. He was a man that loved his children, wife, and family. He loved his friends. He loved his clutter, his tools, hi car parts, and his organized chaos. He was a man that welcomed people into his home and shared life experience with them. He was a man that would show you the ropes and tell you what you needed to know. He was a man that tried to make people better, and look for the funny things in life. He was a man that while I knew him, always was joking, laughing, high fiving, slapping you on the back, saying hi, and encouraging you, and loving you. Even though we all grow up, and the number of times we all touch base and get together grows farther and farther apart, Phil is one of those influences on my life that I will always look back on and remember what little lessons in life he gave me. I will always remember the gigantic batches of spaghetti he would make us boys to refuel. I will always remember his sense of humor, and his welcoming smile, and his strength.

To me, Phil, you are without a doubt……the man.

John Kirkpatrick

May 25th

Happy Birthday, Dad. I wish you were here so I could make fun of you being exactly twice as old as me this year.