From the Great Falls Tribune
SUNBURST. Alan A. Ryan, 74, of Sunburst, a longtime educator, former county commissioner and Navy veteran, died of natural causes Wednesday at his home.
Memorial service with full military honors is 2 PM Monday at Sunburst Lutheran Church, followed by a reception for family and friends. Burial will take place at a later date.
Alan was born January 26, 1936, in Havre, to Oscar and Lea (Steeland) Ryan. He spent his first years on a ranch near Chinook. His family moved to Havre during his elementary years. After graduating from Havre High School, he enlisted in the Navy, and served four years. Much of his time was spent at the U.S. Naval Radio Station of Garrigada, Guam. When honorably discharged on March 20, 1958, he returned to Havre to attend college. He earned his degree in science and mathematics from Northern Montana College, and a Masters of Science in chemistry and mathematics from New Mexico Highlands University. He also received his administrative degree from Montana State University in Bozeman.
He met his wife, Joyce Boyum, while attending Northern Montana College. They were married Sept. 17, 1960, at the First Lutheran Church in Havre. Alan and Joyce celebrated their 50th anniversary in September at the Sunburst Lutheran Parish Hall, with many friends and relatives attending.
He taught science and math in Cut Bank and Browning High Schools and later became the finance director for Browning Public Schools. In 1976 he became the superintendent of North Toole County Schools, and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1994.
Some of his professional memberships included the American Association of School Administrators, Phi Kappa Delta, Association of School Business Officials, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion and Church Council Presiden of Sunburst Lutheran Church.
Alan was a devoted husband, father and grandpa. He also had a deep Christian faith. he was a supportive husband and a great companion for his wife. He enjoyed taking her for rides in the country or just around town to see the sights. He enjoying watching and listening to any sports his grandkids were playing, and was their proudest cheerleader. His family meant everything to him.
Alan’s hobbies included ranching, training horses, riding, golfing, reading, snowmobiling, camping, playing cards, and enjoying pie and coffee with his friends.
Alan had a contagious laugh. He was always known for his practical jokes and putting a smile on your face. He was very proud to get his last driver’s license. He fought several long-term illnesses and was a positive man to the end.
Survivors include his wife, Joyce, of Sunburst; son Dave (Kristen) Ryan of Sunburst, daughter Amy (Ron) Walker of Edina, Minn; grandchildren Andy and Katara Ryan of Sunburst; and Ben, Bailey, Jack, Sammy and Izzy Walker of Edina, Minn; sister Barbara Gallup of East Glacier; as well as many loving nieces and nephews.
Alan was preceded in death by his parents; his sister, Jane; and two infant brothers.
When I moved back ten years ago, I went looking for Alan but missed him several times and decided he didn’t really want to talk over old times anyway. That was probably a mistake. Way back in the spring of 1971 when I was briefly the PR person for School District #9 (a very inept one because I still hadn’t learned that PR is meant to address the complaints, not the problems), Alan was the financial officer. I was classified as “administrative” for those few months, which meant that my little corner was in the then-new administrative building, so I was around Alan quite a bit that spring. Everything his obit says is absolutely true. He was a sterling character, a true Jimmy Stewart, laid-back and conscientious at once, and formidably intelligent without being overbearing..
I always had the impression that he’d been a prisoner of war in Korea and had been tortured, but maybe not. I got the idea from a recurrent dream he had that he told us in his musing and humorous way during a coffee break. The idea was that he was lying on his back on a table, immovable, and that an endless line of Korean soldiers was filing past, each putting a pebble on his chest, until he couldn’t breathe and was finally crushed. I guess that might really have been about heart/lung problems, but he never at all complained about his health. I see from his photo in the 1972 Etaikasi (BHS yearbook) that he was a smoker. Still, the dream is such a vivid and recognizable sort of feeling that I’ve thought of it and recounted it many times since.
At 71 a person begins to see contemporaries die. Grant Gallup, who has “gone on ahead,” was Alan’s brother-in-law. I had thought the two men married red-haired sisters and that there were more of them, one who married a judge. I was going to invent a novel about those sisters, sort of “Mitfords on the High Line.” Maybe I will yet. I see Barbara Gallup when I preach for the Browning Methodists. Grant, a fiery and iconoclastic guy, would make a great subject for a novel, but maybe I should think about Alan more: the friendly man who sits in the cafe with his coffee and pie, listening to people’s problems, taking them on as if they were his own, and finding solutions. Church problems, school problems, county problems and always that cheerful laugh as he figured them out, maybe writing numbers on a napkin. To be married that long, to be a superintendent that long, takes enormous focus and a certain amount of forgiveness for fools. Most people never really figure out the core of things and when they make a big tangle of it, they just leave. Alan was neither trivial nor shallow, at least from what I saw. I never saw him get resentful or even angry.
I was looking at something not long ago that traced the family relationships among white business people in Browning in the Sixties and early Seventies. It was a relatively stable time, the period in which today’s Blackfeet leaders were growing up. The saddle-maker/jeweler and the postmaster were twins and the daughter of one of them married the photographer’s son. The wife of one was sister to Phil Ward, the superintendent. Joe Lewis ran the cafe (now slid down to being Ick’s) and originally commissioned Albert Racine to paint Napi on the building, eating a short stack and scarfing down pie. The Greco brothers ran the drug store and the bakery. What I hadn’t realized was how many of them were Mormons. All gone now and so is their church. Browning is no longer a white town. Today the businesses and the school system are managed by Blackfeet, which I take to be a sign of success and progress. I think that of all people, Alan Ryan would agree and be pleased to know he helped make that shift, not by creating uproar and confrontation, but by quietly solving the problems. He was what is meant when people say, “A pillar of society.” If you can imagine a laughing pillar.