Due North

Harley Bress

Most people probably don’t know that the state motto of Alaska is “North to the Future.”  In the late 1990s, when Harley Bress was working in the Education Department at the American Contract Bridge League – way down South in Memphis – it’s highly unlikely that he saw living in Alaska – the place he now calls home – as part of his future.
Bress is in Atlanta with a couple of young players – bridge students of his back home in Nome – who are participating in the 11th Youth NABC.
Reflecting on the series of events that led to his relocation and his life up North, Bress said, “It’s been an amazing time.”
Bress, 46, is originally from Pittsburgh PA. An experienced bridge player, he joined the ACBL staff in late 1998, departing for Denver CO in 2004 to go into the real estate business.
When that proved unsatisfactory, Bress acquired a teaching license. At a job fair for teachers about seven years ago, he noticed a strong presence of recruiters from Alaska. The idea of moving again, especially to the destination he was considering, “seemed really exciting.”
That led to his decision that same year to take a teaching job in McGrath AK, about 200 miles west of Fairbanks.
McGrath, an isolated community of 350 residents, sometimes features weather meant for only the hardiest of souls. Bress recalls waking up one morning after moving to McGrath to discover that the temperature outside was 55 degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero. He went online to do some research and confirmed that at that moment, he was in the coldest place on earth.
He notes that he wasn’t really surprised. “I didn’t really expect anything,” he says, adding, “I knew things could be kind of rustic.”
At the school in McGrath, Bress was the only person qualified to teach science and math, so he did double duty. “It was a lot of work,” he says.
While he was there, Bress used his knowledge of bridge to teach the game to his students. He has traveled with some of them to two other Youth NABCs. Bress has also taught bridge for credit in Nome (at a community college) and in McGrath.
Later this year, he will move to the city in northern Alaska formerly known as Barrow but now officially Utqiagvik, the native Alaskan name.
Whether Bress will stay in Alaska is an unanswered question. “It’s kind of year to year,” he says. As for bridge, it’s also iffy unless and until he moves. “If I play at all,” he says, “it’s all online.”