William McKenna Ryan, 79, of Mansfield Center, CT, passed away on Tuesday, October 29th, 2019, after a long battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. He was surrounded by family members. He is survived by his beloved wife of 55 years, Bonnie Forgeron Ryan; his loving daughter, Kathleen Ryan-Gidman and her husband Matthew Gidman of Willington, CT, and their daughter, Madeleine; his loving son, James Ryan, and his wife, Elizabeth, of Greenville, SC, and their two children, Andrew and Ashley. Bill leaves behind a remarkable legacy of dedication to family, friends, and community. He was a paragon of striving to leave things “better than he’d found them.”
Born in Oceanside, NY, on October 11th, 1940, the only child of Stephen and Marie McKenna Ryan, Bill spent his formative years in Baldwin, NY. A consummate scholar-athlete, Bill was talented, smart, gregarious, fun-loving, and funny. While at Baldwin High School, Bill distinguished himself as the class of 1958’s Valedictorian and starred on the school’s Baseball, Soccer, and Bowling teams, ultimately Captaining the Baseball and Bowling teams. After his all-County performance for the baseball team during his Senior year, Bill was drafted by the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies as a “bonus baby.” However, recognizing the importance of education, Bill instead opted for a collegiate path.
Bill matriculated to Williams College in Williamstown, MA, in the fall of 1958, commencing a lifelong love affair with the Purple Valley and all things “Eph.” While at Williams, Bill continued to pursue both academics and athletics with equal vigor, graduating cum laude with Honors in Physics, excelling in Baseball, and Captaining the Soccer team. It was his catcher’s crouch that earned him the moniker of “Buddha,” a nickname that followed him throughout his adult life. Bill’s greatest joy and enduring passion, however, were the connections he forged with the institution and its people. Bill served the college for decades in various volunteer capacities, including President of the Society of Alumni and Secretary for the Class of 1962. He looked forward to reunions, the Alumni Golf Tournament, and any opportunity to gather with classmates. In fact, Bill took it upon himself to spend the years prior to his 50-Year Reunion to interview in person over 161 ’62 alumni; his ventures constituted “a herculean odyssey – crisscrossing the continent, collecting, categorizing, and chronicling the activities” of classmates, as one peer recounted.
After college graduation, Bill proceeded to Cambridge, MA, where he enrolled at the Sloan School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his M.S. in Industrial Management in 1964. In the summer of that year, Bill married Bonnie, and the two moved to Columbus, OH, where Bill began his career at a technology firm called Industrial Nucleonics. Kathy and Jim were born in Columbus, and in 1972, the family briefly relocated to Kansas City, KS, where Bill had been hired at Standard Havens. In the summer of 1973, Bill and Bonnie returned to the East Coast with their family, finding a home in Mansfield, CT, close to Bill’s new job at Brand-Rex, a cable manufacturer. Following Brand-Rex, Bill’s industry leadership roles took him to several companies in the area, including Carolyn Chemical, Superwinch, and Aeonics Systems.
In 1993, Bill shifted his talents from the boardroom to the classroom, beginning a teaching career through Connecticut’s Alternate Route to Certification (ARC). Over the next decade, Bill taught math at Weaver High School in Hartford, CT, and Bennett Middle School in Manchester, CT. He was hailed for his commitment to his students and passion for the profession. After his retirement in 2004, Bill remained engaged with ARC for several years as an instructor of future math educators.
During his 46 years as a Mansfield resident, Bill made a profound impact on the community. His civic involvement included service on the Economic Development Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals. In 2005, Bill was elected to the Region 19 Board of Education. He served for four years before being elected to the Mansfield Town Council. During his tenure on the Council, he chaired the Finance Committee and was appointed Deputy Mayor. Bill also generously shared his time and leadership skills with multiple philanthropic organizations, including Perception House, the Covenant Soup Kitchen, and the St. Thomas Aquinas Roundtable. He played violin in the Mansfield Community Orchestra and coached youth soccer, baseball, and basketball teams, serving as President of the Mansfield Junior Soccer Association for five years. A model citizen to the end, Bill cast an absentee ballot as his last conscious act.
Bill had no shortage of avocations. He enjoyed sports, including jogging, golf, tennis, bowling, soccer, and hiking local trails. He was proud of his 11-year running streak, even when it involved miles in sub-zero temperatures or laps around airports and hotel lobbies. His competitive nature manifested itself in lively board games, not least of which was a years-long Pictionary rivalry along gender lines. Bill was inquisitive and curious, fond of reading, classical music, cultural events, trying new restaurants, the New York Times crossword puzzle, and world travel. Though he’d journeyed to over 50 countries, Bill’s most-relished sojourns were in Puerto Rico and the Massachusetts hamlets of Williamstown and Chatham.
Bill’s greatest love was, however, people. An only child, Bill treasured his family and cultivated his numerous friendships, some reaching back as far as grade school. Bill’s loyal, nonjudgmental attitude drew him to appreciate companions and colleagues from all walks of life. Playful and self-effacing, Bill eagerly engaged in his children’s and grandchildren’s endeavors. He never missed a concert or game if he could help it, even participating in activities when possible, whether that meant catching fly balls or flies for a science project, cuddling his pets and grandpets (including the ones he was allergic to), and donning his best Nutcracker duds, complete with too-tight makeshift eye patch. He and Bonnie were life partners in every sense, even musically, often duetting on piano and violin. At any party or wedding, he could be counted on to hit the dance floor and twist the night away to the tunes of Chubby Checker. Bill’s Santa costume made 49 appearances in the annual Ryan Christmas photo.
A local memorial celebration of life is planned for January 12th, 2020, at the UConn Alumni Center, from 11:00 to 2:00. All are welcome. Please feel free to share happy memories or humorous anecdotes.
The Ryan family would like to thank everyone at Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation for their respectful, gentle care, encouragement, and support.
Online condolences may be sent to the Potter Funeral Home in Willimantic at potterfuneralhome.com. Donations in Bill’s memory may be made to Covenant Soup Kitchen (220 Valley St., Willimantic, CT 06226), Mansfield Community Center (c/o Mansfield Parks and Recreation, 4 South Eagleville Rd., Storrs, CT 06268), or E.O. Smith Foundation (P.O. Box 39, Storrs, CT 06268).
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