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Remembering beloved local teacher Reuben Ryan

Reuben Ryan loved teaching and he loved coaching. Most of all he loved helping people reach their potential

For Reuben Ryan, every child was unique, with endless possibilities. 

On July 9th, the long-time Fergus resident and retired high school teacher passed away peacefully at Groves Memorial, a few months after celebrating his 90th birthday. 

Among his many passions, Ryan loved teaching and he wanted the best for every student. 

“Being a teacher was my father’s favourite job. I was actually born on his first day and made him slightly late for the morning staff meeting,” says Ryan’s son, Steven. 

“He felt that every student had things that made them special and those things should be encouraged. School was about finding what made you excellent and learning all you can about it. He also felt that those qualities all had equal validity. So, if you were good at sports, that’s great and should be encouraged but that doesn’t make you more valuable than the person who’s a math whiz and so on.”

Ryan leaves behind his beloved wife, Margaret, and their three children, Jeffrey, Craig and Steven. He will also be missed by his many nieces, nephews and extended family in Canada and Northern Ireland.

Ryan was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was the eldest child of William and Jean Ryan. 

As a teenager, he worked at a local rope factory and began an apprenticeship program. 

In his early 20s he emigrated to Canada and worked in Toronto as a tool and die maker. He worked on the famous Avro Arrow aircraft, designed to be the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. 

Ryan had a broad range of interests, including teaching at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Yonge Street. 

It was in Toronto, where he met the love of his life, Margaret Davidson who had recently arrived from Scotland. 

The couple met on an outdoor skating rink and married in 1958. Ten years later, they moved their young family to Fergus. 

Ryan became the sheet metal and welding teacher at the new tech wing at Centre Wellington District High School where he began a co-op program, providing students with real-world work experience with local companies. 

Ryan also coached soccer and he enjoyed performing in school musicals, memorably as Uncle Arvide in Guys and Dolls

He also put his Arthur Murray Dance Studio experience to the test when he taught the cast of The Wizard of Oz how to jitterbug. 

“My father also loved that teaching prepared young people for life,” says Steven.

“It’s why he helped create and run the co-op program, so students could get real life experience they could take with them into the world. He wanted everyone to succeed.”

At home, Steven says his father provided the same encouragement. 

“He was very supportive, both emotionally and often fiscally, of our personal pursuits and interests because you just never knew where these things would lead,” he said. 

“When my older brother said he wanted to take piano lessons, an upright piano was purchased and a music teacher sought out. Eventually, this led to a PhD in Orchestral Composition from the Cleveland Institute of Music. It was the same for all of us in our own ways.”

Ryan always used his many talents and interests to make a difference for every one of his students. 

“I don’t think there are many men out there that could fill his shoes,” says his niece Tina Hurl-Priestley. 

"For starters, he taught more than academics, although the ongoing joke between him and I while I was in high school was, “did you pass Grade 9 math yet?” I failed three times, although he attempted to help! Desperate measures required a bribe. 'There is $20 waiting if you pass by the time I see you,' he said.”

However, Hurl-Priestley says her uncle taught her much more than math. 

“I don’t think he ever realized it. My uncle was a godly man and a shining example of what a husband, father and man could and should be. He was a gentle and polite soul, a leader, a provider, protector, educator and a man who always interacted with you from a place of calmness,” she said. 

“These were only a few of his attributes, although there were many more. What the world has lost, heaven has gained. I will forever remember him fondly and await the day we will see each other again.”

Even years after retirement, former students would stop and have a chat with Ryan. He fondly remembered each one of them. 

“He loved living in Fergus. He knew the names of each one of his students. Even the ones who never took his classes,” his son Steven says. 

“He knew the names of every spouse of every co-worker. It would take 45 minutes to pick up a loaf of bread at L&M because he’d run into 20 people he knew there and stop to chat with all of them.”

In recent years, Ryan’s sharp mind and zest for life were increasingly diminished by dementia his family says. 

But Ryan’s passion, commitment, and enthusiasm for teaching endures in the lives of his family and the many students he taught over the years. 

He saw hope and promise in all of them.

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