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Home / Community Development / Construction at heart of Wausau man’s peace award (6:44 a.m. 11/30/09)

Construction at heart of Wausau man’s peace award (6:44 a.m. 11/30/09)


Wausau Daily Herald

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — For 20 years, Wausau resident Don Ryder has kept a picture of Mother Teresa on his desk as a source of inspiration for his own good deeds.

Little did Ryder know that his good deeds over the years would put him among the ranks of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther King Jr.

Last month, Ryder, 62, a Secular Franciscan, won the National Peace Award from the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order for his role in bringing drinking water to the Maasai tribe in Kenya, Africa, among other efforts. Ryder received the award at the organization’s annual chapter meeting, held Oct. 20-25 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Ryder’s efforts include serving meals to Hispanic residents at the Good News Center in California, conducting workshops for prisoners at a maximum security prison in Wisconsin and identifying core values for city of Wausau employees.

“He’s an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things,” said Bob Stronach, a member of the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order.

Others who have won the same award, which was established in 1950, are J. Edgar Hoover, Pope Paul VI and Robert F. Kennedy.

“I was deeply humbled by winning the award, especially when I heard some of the former recipients,” said Ryder, the director of organizational development and safety for the city of Wausau. “I was thinking, ‘Gee, they made a mistake this year.'”

Ryder’s peers know his work speaks for itself and is worthy of an award as large as the National Peace Award. The Rev. Steve Brice of The Church of St. Anne in Wausau said Ryder and his colleague, Romey Wagner, also of Wausau, are 99 percent of the reason there is water in the Kenya village today.

“Ryder’s whole life has been about remarkable service,” Brice said.

Ryder, who has been a member of St. Anne for about 12 years, comes from a family of 13 children. He and his wife, Yvonne, have three grown children.

The idea for bringing water to Kenya — the project is called the Kenya Water Project — came after Ryder went to Kenya with other missionaries in the early 2000s to help build a church for the Kikuyu tribe. After the church was completed, Ryder, along with some missionaries, ventured into the Great Rift Valley where they found an African tribe known as the Maasai, Ryder said.

Ryder noticed the village’s arid conditions but didn’t think he could do much to help, so he went back home, he said. About six months later, he received an e-mail from Vatican City, telling him about the drought plaguing Kenya.

After much prayer and meditation, Ryder felt called to help the tribe, even though he was reluctant at first.

“I thought, what if Mary would have said to the Angel Gabriel, ‘Sorry Gabe, I’m young. I don’t think I want to have a child,'” Ryder said. “I thought, where would we all be if Mary said no. So, after some deep soul searching, I decided that I’ll do this.”

From there, Wagner stepped forward to help raise money for the Kenya Water Project, which started in 2006. Brice soon helped get St. Anne involved. After that, the word spread throughout Wausau and the country as donations poured in.

Today, the Maasai village has one well, which cost $65,000 to construct. It provides clean water for about 5,000 residents and 100,000 cattle, Ryder said. A second well also is in place that provides water to a school.

The benefits of the wells go beyond having clean drinking water. The tribe no longer has to hike 15 miles one way to obtain water from a dirty water hole and risk losing tribal members to African predators, such as lions, Ryder said. With the long hikes gone, parents can spend more time with their children. Clean drinking water also helps keep tribal members healthier, he said.

“All the way around, this project is transforming their lives,” Ryder said. “It’s just fantastic what’s happening out there.”

Even with the award, Ryder is quick to point out that he is just one of many people who helped make the water project a reality. Ryder says he is an ordinary man who’s always looking for ways to make a difference.

“I want to be the first to recognize that I’m flawed like every other human,” Ryder said. “But God can still use us as instruments of peace.”

Information from: Wausau Daily Herald,

One comment

  1. Kristin Miller Knight

    Gosh I don’t know if I have gone crazy but if this is the Mr. Ryder I had in middle school as I believe English teacher in the 1970s I had a dream about him last night. I don’t like Facebook so trying to reach him via e-mail. I only lived in Wausau for six months but am back in college at 48 years old and working on a screenplay that involves bullying after attending 13 schools nationally before graduating at 16 back here in Arizona. My dad owned the minor league club Wausau Mets for a short time before we moved back to Tucson due to the COLD weather and my Mom’s arthritis. I was the most bullied in Wausau and then Burlington iowa and I thought of Mr. Ryder because he made me write an essay on nothing because I think he wanted me to be a part of something and he was awesome. He was one of the few teachers who I feel cared about me and I would like to thank him, my own daughter is going into her student teaching aspect of her major and I keep dreaming about my past. Thanks so much. Kristin Knight.

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