Before he started volunteering for the Historical Society of Federal Way, Board member Bert Ross never realized his passion for history and his career would ever intersect.
Before his retirement from the Lake Haven Utility District in 2007, Ross’ focus was mainly on public works projects, not history projects. With Lake Haven Utility District, he worked as a civil engineer and department manager, largely responsible for helping to design public works projects. Prior to that, he worked for King County Water District 56 as district manager. After he retired, he was recruited to join the Historical Society in 2008, and he said it’s been a good fit for him.
“Retirement helps you have time to devote to community service,” said Ross, who was nominated as the Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for December. “I think history is very important and needs to be preserved.”
His interest in history started young, he said, listening to his father’s stories of serving in World War II, where he was a paratrooper who dropped into Europe around Naples, Italy, as part of the rescue effort following the Battle of the Bulge. That developed into an interest in the Civil War, as well as the Lewis and Clark expedition.
His admiration with the Lewis and Clark expedition centers on what the pair accomplished: exploring unknown territory, negotiating with Native American tribes and surviving sickness and rugged terrain.
“I always thought that was an incredible adventure for those guys back in the day,” Ross said.
Now he is dedicated to preserving Federal Way history, and using his civil engineering and managerial skills to help.
When Ross began volunteering for the Historical Society, he quickly realized where his engineering background could be of great use — serving as project manager for the restoration of the Denny Cabin at West Hylebos Park. Not only did Ross know what needed to be done, he knew how to get it done, from drawing up a schedule, to going out for construction bids, to arranging for volunteers. He can also swing a hammer and use a paint brush when need be.
“I love working with hand tools, power tools,” he said, adding managing projects also comes easy after doing that for so many years. “I thought, this is a task I can do.”
After a year of planning, working with the city and obtaining a grant to help with the Denny Cabin restoration, Ross said he is satisfied with how the project turned out.
“Now we’ve got it to a state where it’s open to the public,” he said.
Ross’ attention has now turned to overseeing facility upgrades at the main Historical Society building — the Steel Lake Annex House — mainly upgrading the electrical and plumbing systems. Ross estimates the project will cost about $35,000, and he will again seek another 4 Culture grant for the majority of the funds. Then he will have to advertise for plumbing and electrical bids.
“I’ve got a plan together on what we’d like them to do,” he said.
Ross said another project that will likely come up in 2017 is restoring two structures at Brooklake Community Center, one of which used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition.
When he’s not project managing, Ross’ other duty for the Historical Society is editing monographs posted to the website. He said, however, he cannot explain where that talent originated.
“I don’t like writing prose, but I like writing technical stuff,” he said, adding that has come in handy when applying for applications and sharing plans with city agencies.
Ross said he is proud of the work the Historical Society is doing, from restoring buildings in the area to sharing information on the history of the area. He said he is also very happy to be working with the other board members and volunteers.
“What I appreciate about the historical society is we’ve got a group that’s very interested in preserving history and displaying it for the public at large,” Ross said.
While there are no serious plans for large future projects after the Steel Lake Annex Building and the Brooklake restorations, Ross said the Historical Society board is interested in the Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarter structure.
“We think that’s a facility that bears some level of preservation,” he said.