October 16, 2013
Although nothing in this world is ever certain, it was almost
inevitable that William Ryan ’47C would become a student at St.
John’s University. He lived nearly across the street from the Lewis
Avenue campus, and by the time he was ready to apply to college,
had already been immersed in the Vincentian ideals and
grew up In the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn,” he
recalled. “I went to St. John the Baptist Elementary School and
then to St. John’s Prep High School, so it was no surprised when I
decided to attend college on Lewis Avenue. Plus, I had an uncle who
was a Vincentian priest, so for me it was St. John’s all the way.
And I’ve never regretted that decision for even a minute.”
Originally a member of the Lewis Avenue Class of 1945, Ryan’s
time at St. John’s was interrupted when Uncle Sam invited him to
join the Navy during World War II. After two years in the military
he returned to the University to complete his degree. It was during
his first semester back as a returning college student that the
Navy veteran met the woman who would become his future wife.
“When I got out of the Navy, I had credits left that I needed to
complete for my degree, so I went back to St. John’s to finish up,”
he said. “That proved to be a good move in more ways than one,
because I met my wife at Lewis Avenue. I was in St.
John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Joan was in
of Education, which was called Teacher’s College back then. She
was in a class with me during the summer that I came back from the
Navy, and like they say, the rest is history. So I have two
important parts of my life for which I’m very grateful to St.
John’s – my degree and my wife.”
After graduation, Ryan secured an entry-level position with
Montgomery Ward, the country’s original retail catalog company. His
exceptional work ethic, coupled with the discipline he learned in
the Navy, was a powerful combination that propelled his career
steadily forward. He remained with the company for 35 years
until his retirement as Vice President and General Manager of the
New York office.
He credits what he learned at St. John’s with getting him
started on the path to professional success.
“The University gave me a great education,” he said,” and it
wasn’t just what we learned in the classroom. When I was getting
close to graduation, I remember that the Director of Alumni
Relations spent time counseling the seniors about what we
needed to do to get our first job. He gave us a lot of practical
suggestions and advice that I found very useful when I set out into
the business world. That was one of the many things that made St.
John’s such a special place for the students. Everyone at the
University went out of their way to help us succeed, and I’m pretty
sure it’s the same way today.”
Even though he graduated more than 66 years ago, Ryan’s
connection to St. John’s remains strong. He is a frequent attendee
at alumni events, particularly the annual Lewis Avenue Alumni
Reunions, and supports the University as a long-standing member of
The Loughlin Society, an exclusive recognition group for St. John’s
most generous donors.
His generosity and commitment have not gone unnoticed by the
University he loves.
In 1997, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of his
graduation, he received the Pietas Medal, awarded to an outstanding
graduate who has demonstrated a lifetime of extraordinary loyalty
and fidelity to the University. He was recently honored once again
St. John’s Lewis Avenue Alumni Legacy Award, presented to a
graduate of the Lewis Avenue campus for outstanding service to the
University and the community-at-large.
“I’m very honored and humbled to receive this award,” he said,
“because I still live my life in accordance with the values that
the Vincentians taught us. I’m an Extraordinary Minister of the
Eucharist at St. Francis
Hospital in Port Washington, NY and in my home parish of St. Mary’s in Manhasset, NY.
I’m also a Consolation Minister at St. Mary’s. I enjoy serving
others, and I get as much, or more, out of it than the people I
serve. And that’s important to me, because I feel good knowing that
I’m reaching out to those in need, in the spirit of St. Vincent de
Paul. After all of my years with the Vincentians, I’m absolutely
convinced that it’s the right way to live.”