Remembering Doc Ryder

A month ago today one of my former college professors, Dr. Stuart Ryder, passed away at the ripe old age of 90. No matter the age, there is something about my former college and seminary professors that makes me think they will always be there, always instructing and mentoring.

Doc Ryder has been at my alma mater, Judson College (now Judson University), for half a century. He predated most of the buildings on campus. I never heard how he made his way from the state of New York to the minuscule college campus in Elgin, Illinois. In the summertime he’d make his way back to a cottage he had there. I remember him telling us about his neighbor, New York Knicks Hall of Famer Willis Reed. It seems, however, true to Doc’s nature, he always referred to Willis as Will. It was an indication of the fact that Doc Ryder was not so much impressed with a person’s celebrity status as he was cognizant of their humanness.

I only had Dr. Ryder for one class, an English Composition class of some kind that now escapes me. Honestly, even though I’m now an author and just completed a year of teaching seventh grade language arts, I can not remember anything from that class except that it met in the basement of the library. That is not to be a reflection on Doc’s teaching ability but rather my lack of interest in my higher education pursuits at that time in my life.

My closeness to Doc Ryder was in the area of athletics. He had become the athletic trainer for our cross country team. It was a way he could help and engage in a non-academic way with some of the students. Judson didn’t have the funds for an athletic trainer. Our cross country team didn’t even have the funds to stay in a hotel overnight if our Saturday morning race was a few hours away. We’d camp and slide into sleeping bags for a few hours before our four or five mile race the next day. Doc would be right there with us, filling the air around the campfire with his pun humor that caused a few groans. Tim Etternick, our team manager, was Doc’s “pun partner”, taking his cleverness into creating a pun that would be even more brutal than Doc Ryder’s.

Those campfire moments brought our team to appreciate and love our English professor in different ways than we did in classroom situations. One summer we took a team retreat to Baraboo, Wisconsin. We stayed in a camper at a campground and laughed and laughed and laughed. After all, you can only run for so long. What do you do the other 12 to 14 hours a day that you’re awake? You tell stories, and jokes, and listen to the ripple effect of puns coming from them.

Doc would follow up one of his humorous sayings with his unique laughter, a distinctive inhaling through his mouth that included a kinda gurgling sound. He would stand there with arms crossed and enjoy the lightness of the moment. He was a great man, highly intelligent, but able to relate in ordinary ways. Sometimes you are impacted by someone who doesn’t make a big smash on your life, but rather changes you as a result of a multitude of little ripples.

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