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Obituaries » Sandi J. Ryan

Sandi J. Ryan

June 9, 1951 - November 18, 2022

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Sandra Jean Ryan was born June 9, 1951, to Harry and Wilma Sutherland (Chitty) at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames, IA. Less than two years later, cancer would make its first attempt on her life, but with great effort by those at the University of Iowa hospitals and much support from her family, it only managed to take her eyes. Her parents were told there was little chance she would make it to five years old, and that cancer was a question of “when”, not “if”. Despite the odds, she made it 70 more years, passing away on November 18, 2022.

She first attended the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, IA and later Nevada High School where she graduated (early) in 1968. From there she went to the Iowa Department for the Blind where she asked her friend Craig who he was talking to, then grabbed the phone and started talking to the young man on the other end. It would turn out that man was Kent Ryan, the man she would spend the rest of her life with. She joined him soon after at the University of Iowa, and they were married August 23, 1969. Neither would finish their degrees at U of I, but they would find time to move to Ames, then Des Moines to have Matt (1971) and Marcus (1974) before moving to Newton to open Ryan’s Emerald Bakery in 1978.

Once the boys had gotten far enough in school to not need constant supervision, Sandi decided she wanted to go back and finish college, so in 1983 the family moved to Ames so she could attend Iowa State University to study Human Nutrition. While there she showed her tenacity by standing up to a professor who was convinced that she would burn down the school or ingest poison if allowed anywhere near a chemistry lab. She convinced the administration to allow her to take the class, which she passed beautifully and without incident, allowing her to graduate with her Bachelor of Science in 1983. She went to work for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program at Mid-Iowa Community Action.

Sandi always embraced technology and shared that love with her children. While working for WIC she had a friend write a program for her that could talk, which amazed Marcus enough he ended up pursuing a career in technology. A friend told her not to allow Marcus to touch the computer again while cleaning up one of his messes learning experiences, but fortunately she decided not to listen.

When she decided a few years later to go back and get her Master’s degree, that patience paid off when Marcus was not only able to tutor her in algebra, they were able to figure out how she could use the computer to print out her homework so graders could actually read it. She graduated in 1993 to a shout of “Yay, Mom!” and a huge round of applause from the audience.

After graduation she went to work for the Iowa Department of Public Health where she spent more than 20 years working in health promotion specializing in women’s cardiac health, culminating in her running the Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for WOMen Across the Nation (WISEWOMAN) program.

In retirement she became a commissioner for, and eventually the chair of, the Iowa Commission for the Blind, where she had been a fierce advocate for and defender of the blind of Iowa. She spent a lot of time on braille education as well as scanning books for the Bookshare – an accessible on-line library for people with print disabilities. This year she received the Elizabeth Perowski Memorial award “For extraordinary spirit and inexhaustible dedication in volunteer service to those who are blind.” Her impact on the lives around her cannot be measured, and her absence will be felt far beyond just her close family and friends.

She is survived by her husband, Kent; sons, Matthew (Kacey), and Marcus (Angela); grandchildren, Shelby Ward (Trevor), Kaylee Ryan, Dyllan Ryan, Nathan Countryman, and Gabriel Ryan; brothers, Craig (Julie), and Chuck (Susie); as well as many other loving relatives and friends. She is preceded in death by her parents; and brothers, Wendell, Gary, and Neil.

A memorial service for family and close friends will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, at Memorial Services of Iowa, 4208 N Ankeny Blvd, Ankeny, IA.  A larger memorial service will be announced later in the spring.

In lieu of flowers or food, those wanting to honor her memory are encouraged to donate to the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, or the gifts and bequests fund at the Iowa Department for the Blind, both at 524 4th St., Des Moines, IA 50309.

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