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 Ryan's Story

From the moment that Ryan O’Hara entered the world on March 3, 1986, he was off and running, always seeming to make a statement along the way. Thus, this would set the precedent for his short, but very filled life.  Ryan was a quiet, but ever curious, infant and toddler.  He began building and constructing Legos from the time he could sit up.  As each year went by, his imagination ran deeper and more creative.  He spent hours creating buildings, towers, and whatever else he could conjure up.  His artistic ability also kicked in as he began to draw cartoon figures (clearly exaggerated) with the funniest captions that he came up with.  It seemed as though Ryan had the wittiest comments,  even at a young age he could always make people laugh.

After he learned to read, we never saw him without a book in hand.  We could be at the breakfast table, in a restaurant, or even at a party.  There was Ryan - fully engaged in a novel he had read only four times before that.  He became a walking encyclopedia full of thoughts and knowledge.  He took an interest in playing the flute in 4th and 5th grade and participated in the school band.  He loved his music and was intensely involved in the middle school band which eventually led to his four years in the Washington Township High School (WTHS) Marching Band.

Ryan was also profusely proud of his German heritage, and took German courses throughout high school.    Ryan had a thirst and drive to learn all that he could - education became a main focus in his life.  From the moment he got his acceptance letter from the University of Delaware (UD), we saw the sparkle in his eyes, this was it….he had a huge yearning to be part of the UD campus.  His mom and dad caved in, and so it came to be…….

Immediately in his freshman year, Ryan did his usual thing - he got involved.  He went to band camp in August 2004.  While we were standing in line to register, he began chatting with another fellow band member and her family.  Little did we know then that this person, Julie, would become his soul mate and confidant.  Our families would grow closer in the months that followed.  Ryan loved being in the UD Marching Band, and we loved attending the football games to watch the band perform.

As the months went by, the more trips Ryan made home, the more often “our daughter”, Julie, would take the trip with him.  Towards the end of his freshman year, Ryan approached us about becoming an a resident assistant (RA) for his sophomore year.  He wanted to help us out more financially with college costs (that was so like Ryan), plus he had made a number of friends who were RAs.  He even continued to work at Commerce Bank taking the bus to his job.  He did get accepted as an RA, and somehow still managed to stay in band.  He continued to excel in his academic subjects - history education being his major with a minor in German.  He made many friends along the way, often bringing them home whenever possible, filling the house with laughter and fun. 

As his sophomore year came to a close, Ryan informed us that he wanted to study in the southwest that summer.  He loved to travel, going to Germany in 2001 and 2003, Florida a couple of times including the Gator Bowl, as well as taking trips to Massachusetts to see Julie and her family.  We were hesitant, but he insisted that he would raise the money.  Needless to say, he won out again!  Off he went….

He wrote about every thing he did and visited while on his trip to Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico.  He even had detailed drawings to go with his writings in his journal.  His professor would tell us  later that he was a leader, an inspiration, to the other group members.  Ryan was an optimist and urged others to become involved as well.  Ryan would later say this was one of the best trips of his life……

During his junior year, Ryan was still busy as ever.  He continued being an RA concerned with the growing number of students drinking.  Ryan had made himself a promise that he would wait until 21 to drink.  He urged others to be more careful and to just have fun without drinking.  He was not concerned with peer pressure and held his own ground. Then, if being an RA wasn’t enough work, he also landed a job in the admissions office. 

He became involved in playing in the PEP band for the UD basketball games.   Ryan came home two times in the week before his death.  I’ll never forget what he looked like.  He had a glow to his face, a twinkle in his eyes, and his signature smile that seemed to go on forever.  He told me how his life was really coming together, and that he was so very happy.  He and Julie were even considering a romantic relationship when she returned from studying abroad in Mexico.  She was leaving in the next couple of days, and he already missed her. 

That was the last time we saw Ryan.  On February 12, 2007, a driver allegedly ran a red light and killed him as he was proceeding through the green light.  Ryan was doing his usual thing - helping out a dear friend, Emily, by taking her to pick up her car.  He was less than 3 weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

Ryan must have made a mark in the world as he was honored by over 2000 people at his viewing and funeral.  Hundreds of letters, messages, emails, flowers, and tributes poured in from colleagues, friends, parents, teachers, professors, family, and neighbors.  Ironically, Ryan also left behind a message for his family and friends.  He had written a letter/will to all of us and how he would miss us.

Ryan had a passion for education, a love of music, and a zest for life.  He taught us to be our own person and to stand up for ourselves.  Our continuing dedication to him is to honor others who follow in his footsteps.

Thus, we give out 2 scholarships in his name.  The Spirit of Ryan Instrumental Award is presented to a band member who shows the spirit and positive nature that exemplified Ryan.  The Ryan O’Hara Distinguished German Award is presented to a student who shares Ryan's love of Germany and its culture.

He wanted to make a difference in teaching history, and so we have decided to honor a University of Delaware history education student with an award this year who has the love of history and the drive to be a dedicated teacher.  And, because of his concern of underage drinking, we will be making a donation to WTHS Project Graduation.  Students are whisked off after graduation in buses for a night of fun - keeping them safe and off the road.

 And, so, this is the story of Ryan…………