RAF commemorates Ryan Field airport gift

July 26, 2012

RafThe Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) dedicated a new “legacy rock” July 25 in front of the brown-arch entrance gate to EAA AirVenture. The inscribed two-foot-by-two-foot tile memorializes Ben and Butch Ryan's donation of the airport they built, Ryan Field, to the foundation.

“We’re here to recognize one of the most significant donors and donations that has been made to the RAF,” said Tim Clifford, a director of the organization. He said the RAF plans to recognize others at future AirVentures.

John McKenna, president of the foundation, thanked the Ryans for their significant contribution to the RAF and the aviation community. “The implications of their gift are far-reaching and a tremendous example,” he said.

McKenna said that Ben Ryan had presented a logbook to the organization showing that he soloed July 27, 1941, at Gen. Mitchell Field near Milwaukee—which made the timing of the presentation especially appropriate. Ryan became an Army Air Corps pilot. “Ben flew P-39s and P-38s, and survived bailing out of a P-38,” McKenna said.

Following a successful career in the oil and gas exploration business, Ryan and his wife Butchie—who was an Army nurse during World War II—built a home and airstrip in the shadow of Glacier National Park.

“When the call came to the Recreational Aviation Foundation that asked if we were in the business of saving airports, it was a pleasant surprise,” McKenna said, adding that he hopes their generous donation will inspire the preservation of additional airports. “We hope that others will follow this special example.”

“In about 2003, Butchie and I realized we were getting old, and wanted to do something with our airstrip,” said Ben Ryan, now 89. A friend introduced them to the foundation. “The RAF had the same vision that Butch and I did—to keep that airport open to everyone.”

More and more people visit Ryan Field every June for the RAF’s annual fly-in, he noted.

Gordon Rock of Mercer Island, Wash.—an RAF sustaining supporter—arranged for the organization to sell 37 tribute tiles beneath the iconic brown arch on the AirVenture grounds. The RAF's designated area is located near the welcome shade of the old oak tree just south of the symbolic entrance to the AirVenture flight line.

The plaza in front of the arch is composed of two-foot-square tiles, which the RAF calls legacy rocks; the organization intends to recognize and pay tribute to its significant financial partners who help to support recreational aviation. The venture also will establish an endowment to assist in the RAF's long-term financial stability. The first two inscribed rocks were permanently placed in 2011 to recognize RAFʼs founders and current directors.