In second grade, Evan Ryan turned to Sister Mary Catherine as he was skipping out of school and said, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
That friendliness and humor was characteristic of the Northern Kentucky University senior, who died Sept. 3 in a single-engine plane crash in Verona, Ky.
Ryan loved to play all sports, especially basketball and baseball, and liked working on the farm and hanging out with family and friends. Chocolate was another favorite, said his mother Mary Ryan with a laugh.
“He was the best one in the family who could make those unbaked chocolate chip cookies,” Mary Ryan said. “He liked them so much he perfected them. He could make them better than I did.”
The 22-year-old nursing major was headed for a profession that family and friends believe would have suited him perfectly. “He just cared about people’s feelings, even his Mom’s,” Mary Ryan said. “It’s unusual for guys his age.”
Nursing professor Erin Robinson agreed Ryan had a knack for nursing. “He had that very caring aspect about him,” she said. “He was very unique, he certainly had that caring component to him that I think drives people to this profession.”
Junior nursing major Julie Fox had several classes with Ryan, and remembers him as an amazing person. “He was very into work, family, friends and the church. He gave 100 percent to everything he did,” she said. “If anyone ever needed help, he’d be there to talk and to listen.”
Ryan’s best friend of 17 years, Jacob Huth, a student at the University of Kentucky, had another version of Ryan’s choice in nursing:
“We joked about it, he was a ladies’ man,” Huth chuckled. “There’s a lot of girls in the nursing field. I think that would have suited him very well.”
When not at school, one could find Ryan with his family or friends. “He was family-oriented too,” Mary Ryan said. “He would never miss a family trip. He was involved with family as much as he was involved with friends.”
Huth recalled a time when Ryan turned 22 in July. Ryan’s friends persuaded him to get up and sing karaoke to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”
“I’ve heard it sang a number of times in bars, but I think that was the worst version I’ve ever heard in my life,” he laughed. “He just sang the chorus, tidbits at best. I got a big kick out of that.”
Despite his one-time foray into country music, Ryan is described by those who knew him as quiet, reserved and respectful.
His mother reveals another side: “Other people might call him quiet,” she said, “but to me, he wasn’t. He opened up to me.”
Ryan’s family and friends are still trying to put his loss into perspective, Mary Ryan said.
“I was lucky to have him for 22 years,” she said. “He was a lively part of our family. He’d keep things light-hearted. We’re going to miss that part of him.”
Huth said the thing he will miss most about Ryan is his company. He quoted a line from “Forrest Gump” to sum up his feelings: “A best friend is not something you can find around the corner,” Huth said. “We had plans to be the best man at each other’s wedding. I’ll probably never have a best friend again. I don’t want to lose another one.”
Ryan was the middle son of parents Marty and Mary Ryan of Walton, Ky., and is survived by brothers Kyle and Seth, and grandmother Virginia Stewart of Edgewood, Ky.
On the day of his death, Ryan’s family was gathered for a rehearsal dinner for Kyle Ryan’s wedding in an airplane hangar at the Ryan Airfield. The family had set up rides for guests in a single-engine plane. When Ryan took his turn, the plane sputtered, crashed into a wooded area and burned when it hit the ground.
The pilot of the plane, James “Rod” Tarter, survived the crash, but sustained third degree burns to more than 80 percent of his body, according to a Cincinnati Post story published Sept. 7. Mary Ryan asks well-wishers to stop by area Fifth Third Banks to donate to Tarter’s medical costs.
Dean of Students Matt Brown took steps to refund the cost of Ryan’s tuition and books for his family. “It was early enough in the semester that we felt it was appropriate to offer a full reimbursement,” Brown said, noting he would do the same for any student’s family.