by Jason Canady
Anyone who has attended Methodist University for any length of time knows it’s not just a school, but a family raised within honeycomb facade, whose steps keep time with the chimes of the Yarbrough Bell Tower, and whose love is tied by a green and gold cord. It’s not unusual for generations of a biological family, to tread in their parents’ footsteps and follow the same paths throughout this beautiful campus nestled on the banks of the Cape Fear River. But MU alumni Christopher and Joshua Ryan, could share memories of how they grew up, quite literally, in our residence halls.
Many former MU students know their father, John David Christopher Ryan, known to most as Chris Ryan. Ryan served Methodist University (then Methodist College) for 16 years as the director of Student Activities from 1989-2003. In September 2003, Chris Ryan died due to an allergic reaction from a bee’s sting. Ryan, a man of eternal enthusiasm and forever donned in Methodist T-shirts, organized the sound systems for student events, supported Methodist athletic events, and provided transportation for students who needed it. He made things tick, planned all the concerts, and made the events the best they could be for the students. Ryan also supported the cheer team as an advisor, traveled with the team, and controlled their audio equipment. He was recognized at the 2018 MU Hall of Fame banquet as an assistant coach with the 1988 Cheer Team of Distinction.
Chris Ryan married Susan Cox ’90, now Susan Cox Bucolo, and the couple had three boys, Christopher Ryan ’15, Joshua Ryan ’20, and Caleb Ryan. Susan was an outstanding student-athlete for Methodist. She was captain of the Methodist cheer team and honored along with the 1988 Cheer Team of Distinction, and received the Sherry Sellers Award for cheerleading in 1988. In 1996, the couple lived on campus in the House Director’s apartment in Weaver Residence Hall where they raised sons Christopher and Joshua. The boys attended football games with their father, and the Ryans loved living on campus and attending campus functions as a family. They considered Methodist students as their family.
“No student who needed food was ever turned away. We attended weddings, and even welcomed babies,” said Susan Cox Bucolo.
The Ryan family grew up on campus during the tenure of President Dr. Elton Hendricks. They attended worship services by Mike Safley ’72, whom the Ryan boys dubbed Papa Mike. Chris Ryan’s sons attended, and sometimes even helped coach, summer sport camps. The Ryan boys were mentored by Dr. Elton Hendrick’s son, Dr. George Hendricks, current Dean of the School of Public Affairs, and George’s oldest son Trevor Hendricks ’18 and Joshua Ryan have known each other since childhood.
“You can see our lives have evolved around Methodist for quite some time. We were all destined to be a Monarch,” said Susan Cox Bucolo.
Daily Life on Campus
Chris’s office was called Union Station, an old two-story brick house which doubled as a place students could hang out on soft couches, enjoy fresh brewed coffee, and watch television. Union Station with its large back deck built around a tractor-wheel sized fire pit for entertaining, was the perfect gathering spot for students. But the house’s side porch, with its white rocking chairs, is where Ryan was often seen giving advice while students sipped their coffee, rocked, and heard encouraging doses of wisdom.
For many MU students, Ryan was their own personal cheerleader, life coach, father figure, and shoulder to cry on when needed. Ryan loved to enter commencements with the faculty and staff procession, and was occasionally called upon by a student to sponsor and hood the student as they knelt.
Ashleigh Dippolito ’05 was one of the students within Ryan’s circle of influence.
“Chris Ryan was a force. He had this instinctual ability to see people, not just see them as you would see a person walking down the hallway; but really see deep into their soul to what was important to them and what made them who they are,” said Dippolito. “He never judged you. He didn’t care where you came from, or what you looked like. He saw you and appreciated you for you. Chris had this ability to give perfect pep talks to get us back on track whenever we needed guidance.” After Ryan’s death, Dippolito helped raise the Ryan boys and his impact on her life led her to name her oldest son Ryan, in honor of Chris Ryan and his sons.
Through tragedy, the MU family comes together
Susan Cox Bucolo remembers the MU family coming to their aide. “The day Chris passed and the days that followed, I can’t begin to tell you how many times Methodist athletes and Student Activity Committee members came to our home. Athletes and coaches brought dinner and played outside with the boys. They spent holidays with them or mailed the boys gifts to show their love. It was all because of what Chris did for them,” said Susan Cox Bucolo.
Today, current Student Affair staffers who worked with Chris Ryan can remember the Ryan boys playing ball with students outside Weaver Hall. MU students are still treated like extended family by the Ryans.
“When former students see the boys in public they hug them and tell them stories of their dad, or of them growing up on campus,” said Susan Cox Bucolo.
Christopher Ryan is old enough to remember his father serving the students. “Some of my fondest memories with my father were spending time at the Student Activities Office making smoothies or coffees for students and spending time in the Berns Student Center playing ping-pong or pool with whoever was brave enough to take on a four-year old at the time,” said Christopher Ryan. “The culture and sense of family is something that has always existed at Methodist. I can say that being a part of those moments and environment helped to shape the person I am.”
When reflecting on his father, Joshua Ryan said, “I have this memory of this lion costume my dad bought for Christopher, my older brother, when he was a baby. Ever since then, all three of us wore it as a child and still have it today. But, my best memories are not from me. They are from all the students my father impacted during this time here at Methodist. They stayed in touch with my mother and made sure we were doing alright. These students weren’t just a part of student activities, they were part of our family. You could be black, white, blue, green, it didn’t matter — everyone was family, and everyone mattered. Dad had a way of giving confidence to people, and these memories and teachings are what I try to carry with me in his honor,” said Joshua.
Christopher and Joshua, now both MU graduates, played soccer for MU and were coached by current head coach Justin Terranova ’97. Terranova is married to Jeannette Cox Terranova ’97, the sister of Susan Cox Bucolo. Both Ryan boys played soccer in their college career, and both enjoyed playing for their uncle. Christopher was a part of the conference championship team in 2012, and Joshua, 2015. Their younger brother Caleb, has just completed a year at MU. Coach Terranova sees Chris Ryan in all three of the Ryan boys, and remembers Joshua’s enthusiasm was much like his fathers.
“Joshua is a team player and just lights up a room. He’s a funny kid and his personality is similar to his dad’s. He was great at telling stories and could always make you smile. He was always ready to go, and was the first to say, ‘let’s do this!’” said Terranova.
Dr. Doris Munoz, the current associate dean of students and director of the Student Involvement Center, was a MU sophomore when Ryan died.
“Chris helped create and execute signature MU events like, Show You Care Day, Hoopla Frenzy, and Wednesday night student activity events,” said Munoz. “Those events are still happening and are important to us as Monarchs,” Munoz said. “Chris Ryan was, and is still a legend on our campus. Chris was someone who never left you and helped students see the best in themselves each day,” said Munoz.
DeeDee Jarman, deputy director of athletics, senior woman administrator and compliance director, has fond memories of Chris Ryan and watching his sons grow up.
“Chris and I worked closely together on putting together Hoopla Frenzy, an event where the men and women’s basketball teams are introduced to the student body. Every year we invite the Ryan family back to the event and present them with the T-shirt for the event,” said Jarman. Joshua Ryan, a graphic design major, has designed the last four shirts for the event.
“I will never forget Chris’s smile and love for life,” said Jarman.
Union Station becomes Chris’s House
On Oct. 7, 2003, Methodist faculty, staff, the Ryan family and students, gathered around the southeast corner of Union Station, the brick house on campus used by Chris Ryan, and dedicated a Red Japanese Maple Tree in his honor. Both Christopher and Joshua helped plant the tree. A commemorative plaque from the maintenance department hangs inside, which reads, “You Will Be With Us Always.”
In 2004, Union Station was renamed Chris’s House in honor of Ryan’s dedication and service to Methodist. Inside the building hanging over the commemorative plaque is a large matted and framed photo of Chris with a tag which reads, “Over 16 years of selfless service to the students of Methodist College.”
Story: Jason Canady for Methodist University | MU Today | Contributed photos: Susan Bucolo | Doo Lee University Relations | Methodist University