Lee R. Ryan
longtime resident of Almond who was one of the charter members of the
Allegany County Board of Legislators in 1970, passed away on
Christmas Day 2000, leaving a legacy of decades of political, civil
and social service to residents of the area where he lived and
Lee R. Ryan, a native of Hornell, moved to the "brown shingled house next to the pea vinery" on McHenry Valley, Almond, shortly after his discharge from the US Navy, where he served in World War II. After a few years, his hankering to "farm it" motivated him to "trade houses" with his mother-in-law, Mildred Doan, and he moved his family to the Canaseraga Road, Arkport, where they all operated a chicken farm while he worked as a meter reader for NYSEG. Longing to be more than a "gentleman farmer", he and his wife, Louise, purchased the Ray Hardy farm on Karr Valley, Almond, in 1953. During their twelve years there, they maintained a dairy and "traded works" with neighboring farmers, building strong relationships through vigorous involvement in Farm Bureau and its grassroots Kitchen Konference meetings.
In his memoirs, printed in 1996 and on file in the AHS archives, Lee writes:
"The local farmers were dissatisfied with the assessments which were being levied against our farms, and one night at a Farm Bureau meeting, they asked me if I would run for assessor (four year term). I explained to them that I had affiliated with the Democrat party and as most of them were Republicans, I would not stand much chance unless they would support me."
Although staunch Republicans, they did support him, and he relates the story of this conversation with the chairman of the Town of Almond Republican party chairman: "Being a registered Democrat, I asked him if he would support me. He replied that he would not vote against me!"
During his four-year term, he found that assessments were about one-third the conservative market value, and so a good share of the assessments were changed during his tenure in office, "which did not enhance my popularity with everyone. I ran again in 1959 and lost by about 30 votes," he recalled.
Their children, Lee Arthur, Larry, Linda and David, all worked hard to support the farm operation, and they, in turn were staunch followers of their children's sports and extra-curricular involvement at AACS. The farm was sold after the children graduated and pursued other interests, the couple moved downtown to 84 Main Street, and Lee went to work at SUNY Alfred in the heating plant. He writes:
"I had been approached by some of the Almond people to run for a seat on the Town Board (justice of the peace) which I did, and was elected in the November elections. It was a two-year position and the victory was quite emotional for me. Young people would appear in my court, which I held in my home, and they were charged with violations from speeding to misdemeanors such as DWI (driving while intoxicated). It was my duty as justice to levy a fine or a license forfeiture on them. I made my decisions with a heavy heart.
One young fellow from Alfred Ag Tech was brought in one night about 2 AM very intoxicated. It took two State Troopers to get him in. I phoned the Dean of Men at Ag Tech to see if he wanted to post bail for him. I informed the Dean that the student was too drunk to understand his situation. The Dean said, "Put him in jail and let him cool off." When he appeared two days later, you would never believe it was the same young man. His driver's license showed no violations and he was very polite. I explained to him that pleading guilty to the DWI charge would revoke his driver's license for at least a year and probably several more before he got it back. He insisted that he was drunk and he pleaded guilty.
Seven months later as Louise and I returned from town, we saw a strange car in our driveway. It turned out to be this same young fellow who had pleaded guilty to the DWI, along with his father and an attorney. The young man had finished his college course and found a job but needed his driver's license to get to work. After deliberating with the arresting officer, he was able to begin the procedure to reinstate his license. Needless to say, I was very pleased that none of our children appeared before me while I was a justice of the peace."
About that same time, Allegany County government was changing from a board consisting of one supervisor from each of the 29 townships to a board of fifteen legislators, three of whom were elected from each of the five newly established districts within the county. Even though registered Republicans outnumbered the Democrats in the county 4 to 1, Lee agreed to run for legislator from District 5 (towns of Almond, West Almond, Alfred, Andover, Amity, Ward and Burns) on the Democratic ticket. After an aggressive campaign including door- to-door visits in
all the townships in his district, Lee received the second highest vote tally and took his seat with 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats on the new Allegany County Board of Legislators on January 1, 1970. During the next eight years, he served on the Health, Highway and Planning Committees, and was chairman of the Allegany-Steuben Solid Waste Committee, which was tackling extremely critical and controversial issues of the time.
In addition to his legislative duties, he continued to work as a stationery engineer as well as substitute rural mail carrier. This was not unusual, since throughout his lifetime, he usually worked more than one job at a time, including part time jobs as a Fuller Brush salesman, AACS feeder route driver, freight house laborer, and milk route driver, to name just a few. His philosophy was that work was good: hard work was even better!
Born in 1920, his mother and father separated when he was four, and as a lad of eight, he worked as a caddie at the Hornell Country Club to help meet expenses at home. When his mother took a job at Willard State Hospital, he moved to Burns with his grandmother and uncle, attending Arkport Central School and finding part-time jobs where he could. His memoirs recount a conversation he had, requesting a job weeding for a muck farmer. When Lee asked him how much wage he was going to receive, the farmer said: "Speak nothing of the pay till we see how much you are worth." Lee writes in his memoirs that he was thankful to receive 75 cents a day (not an hour!) from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a half hour for lunch. Struggling as a poor boy through the Depression years, Lee viewed himself as a working man and he began to ally himself with the philosophy of the FDR Democrats, a connection that he maintained throughout his life.
While attending Arkport school, a romance blossomed with Louise Doan and when her family moved to a farm on the Vandermark near Scio, he got a job working for her father over the summer. Returning to Arkport to start his senior year, Lee made this realization: "Louise, whom I loved very much, was too far away. So on October 13, 1936, with my mother's permission and also her parents', a minister in Belmont, New York married us quietly. She was not quite 16 and I was 16. We were happy as two kids with a new rattle. I worked for her father on the farm and even though we received no wages, we were very happy. We had dirt roads, outside toilet, no electricity, but lots of happy, hard work," he recounts in his writing.
When some people would point their finger at the disappointments of their childhood and sink into a "victim" mentality, Lee refused to do so and set his sights on becoming a strong leader in his family and community. He was a man of principle and integrity, and was not afraid to take a stand for what he felt was right, regardless of what people thought. This was evidenced in his firm and uncompromising discipline of his children, as well as his sometimes unpopular political preferences. Again, from his memoirs, his eldest son, Lee A, wrote this evaluation of his father on the occasion of his parent's 60th wedding anniversary:
"Work was always an important part of our life while growing up. Some of
the things that Dad's work ethic taught me were:
task was too big to tackle.
Stick to the job until it was fully done.
Always do your very best at whatever you attempted.
Give your employer more than a full day's pay.
Be honest, never tell a lie, because you'll always have to tell more
lies to cover up the first one you told
Always treat those that were less fortunate than you the same way you
would treat someone that was more fortunate than you are.
A good name is worth more than lots of wealth."
After serving fifteen years in Town and County politics, Lee Sr., as he was known by some, still had a strong compulsion for public service. As a civil service employee, he served as president of the Alfred CSEA union for many years, and was committed to dealing with employee issues fairly. This continued after they retired, when he was a leader in the retired CSEA employees group. When they purchased a winter home in Florida, he became actively involved in the government of their 208-unit owner operated mobile home park, serving as president and vice president and on various governing committees throughout their fifteen years of residence there. In the spring and summer, back in New York State, senior citizen issues were close to his heart, and he and Louise were very committed to the Almond Senior Citizens group. As president, they arranged for challenging speakers and programs, and organized annual bus trips for the group, working diligently on bake sales and projects to raise funds to enable folks to participate. The couple also delighted audiences with their amusing rendition of "George Burns and Gracie Allen" routines, entertaining groups both here and in Florida.
His leisure pursuits were centered on gardening and his family, and he had great expectations for both. His nearly weedless vast garden plot on the north end of Almond's Route 21 was a result of tireless daily attention and perseverance in spite of physical pain. For these lessons of commitment and examples of character demonstrated and confirmed through his life, his entire immediate family, totaling now 69 members, together with many friends, celebrated his homegoing to be with the Lord at a service at Alfred Almond Bible Church on December 29, 2000.
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh . .. blessed be the name of the