Family, friends and co-workers fondly recalled reporter Betty Ryan’s love of journalism after the retired Lake Country Echo reporter died at age 92, just one day before her 93rd birthday.
Ryan died Tuesday, Nov. 17, after having suffered a stroke. She worked at the Echo for more than 20 years, retiring in December 2008 at age 81.
“Journalism was so important to her and being able to work at the Echo was a lifesaver for her, especially after Dad died,” her son, Rick Ryan, said by phone. “She loved it. She absolutely loved it. She thought it was the best thing ever. It was so good for her; it kept her mind active.”
Rick said his mother proudly hung her Minnesota Newspaper Association Awards right below her journalism degree from the University of Minnesota at her Pelican Lake home.
Echo Publisher Pete Mohs also noted Betty’s MNA awards.
“Betty was a devoted journalist who really cared about the Echo and the lakes community. She earned numerous MNA awards and was able to do the newspaper work she truly loved for many years,” he said.
Lou Hoglund, former editor and then publisher of the Echo, said Betty was a classic example of the retirees who move “up to the lake” but are still energetic, active and willing to contribute to their communities, calling her every bit as energetic as a young 23-year-old newspaper person.
“I remember her out on the frozen lake, bundled up, covering numerous Breezy Point Resort ice festivals, shooting photos and taking notes. Her age wasn’t a detriment at all. She enjoyed getting out and about,” Hoglund said via email.
In addition to human interest features and lighter material, Betty was very capable with news stories, he said. She was very able to read a financial statement and a municipal or school budget, and make sense out of it for readers.
“Betty was right at home talking with governors, congressmen, senators one day - then the next day she was equally at home interviewing a rural family, a gardening hobbyist or local small business person,” Hoglund said. “Betty was a real asset to the Echo, and I will always remember her as a great colleague.”
Another former editor, Peter Frank, said when he joined the Echo as a staff writer in the spring of 1999, he was 23 and fresh out of college.
“The one thing I had going for me is that I was aware that I didn't know much about journalism, and if I ever forgot that, there was Betty Ryan to remind me,” he said via email.
"When I became the very young editor of the Echo in 2000 or 2001, I noticed a new sign in Betty's office. It said, 'Old age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm every time.' Both of us knew who was who on that sign - but the truth is I loved and respected Betty both as a journalist and a person, and though I'm not sure she would admit it, I think she came to kind of like me too," Frank said.
He admired Betty's commitment to get the story right, and her unswerving belief that local journalism was important, even if the story itself didn't always seem important. She had this way of figuring out what the most important question to ask was in any news story, and then just sticking with it until she got an answer that satisfied her, Frank said.
Another co-worker and friend, Sherry Savage, recalled when Betty first joined the Echo in the 1980s. The two ended up working in the same little room, sitting back to back at their computers and often working over the noise of the nearby break room.
“She loved her job, getting out in the communities,” Savage said via email. “Among many other things she covered the council meetings for at least two communities. She was a good writer. Almost everyone in this area knew her.
“I must confess I was a little intimidated by Betty at first,” Savage said. “You rarely meet people like her any more, especially women. She loved to write, educate people. She was a women’s rights advocate. She rather enjoyed debate, usually about politics. She was a strong, no-nonsense, determined, generous, independent woman.”
The editor writing this story can’t help but comment. Like Savage, I also was a bit intimidated by Betty when I joined the Echo in July 2006 as editor. Everyone had heard of Betty Ryan, the Echo reporter. How could I be her boss? I wondered.
I quickly learned we were a great team, and I appreciated Betty’s knowledge of past stories and people of the area. I loved bragging to people about “my 80-year-old reporter,” and I know everyone enjoyed her Ryan's Ramblings columns.
After she retired, Betty never failed to ask every time I saw her, “How are your girls,” and she was genuinely interested in hearing about my daughters.
Her son, Rick, summed up what most quickly learned about Betty: “You could argue with my mom if you wanted, but you better have your argument sharpened and be ready because she would be. She had strong opinions and she was unafraid to share them,” he said, though she worked hard to keep her preferences out of her journalism.
He said his mom had a file named “Kudos” filled with thank you notes from people she wrote stories about, and she loved human interest stories the most. His mom was an avid reader of books and magazines and she loved traveling overseas, he said, and she also loved dogs.
Savage shared the sentiment of many who knew Betty: “She was a beautiful person and I miss her very much.”
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.