Another Fourth, another plethora of memories made. Though each year the celebration unfolds a bit differently, for those able to spend it in the special town of Spicer, Minnesota, the end result is always the same - leaving those who were there to experience it with gratitude, pride, and a raging case of post-Fourth depression.
The stories that unfolded this year are no less exciting than any year past, and of course worth sharing, but instead of diving right in, I’d like to share a story with you that I feel should be told first, and something that has everything to do with patriotism and community - the entire purpose of this post.
Let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have even have the opportunity to celebrate America's birthday, not to mention have America at all if it weren’t for the patriots willing to protect it. So many special people have risked it all to serve this nation, and one in particular has been on my mind a lot lately....
U.S. Army Pfc. Ryane Clark, a 22 year old NL-S graduate, was killed in action while on duty in Afghanistan on October 4, 2010. Ryane died fighting to protect our freedoms including: our right to free speech, to worship the religion of our choice, and the option to make a life for ourselves as we so choose. Let's also not forget the freedom to dance in the street, watch football on Sundays, and freedom to celebrate, splash, and hoot and holler at Lone Tree under the Minnesota sun come early July. Not only did Ryane lose his life protecting what makes this country great, but he lost it at age 22 - five years ago. Everyone reading this has has been able to celebrate at five more birthdays, five more Fourth of July parades, and acquired hundreds of beautiful memories made since his untimely death. It’s simply unfair.
But there is so much more than his bravery and patriotism that has earned Ryane the right to be recognized as a hero.
In April of 1999, Ryane’s classmate and fellow ten year-old, Cody Berg, was hit and killed while trying to cross the road riding his bicycle along the MN State Glacial Ridge Trail. In the spot where he was trying to cross there is no parking lot or designated area for trail users to park, load, unload, and/or stop to safely cross the street.
Cody’s death was unnecessary, and Ryane knew that.
Still frustrated by the unfairness of his friend’s death, in 2003, fifteen year old Ryane decided to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. He was determined to take action - something few fifteen year olds (or adults) have the ambition or maturity to do. His idea was to have a parking lot paved next the trail so people could safely park, enter, and exit the trail, as well as cross the street. He took on the seemingly simple task as an Eagle Scout project and wished to have it completed by his 16th birthday (how’s that for a “Sweet Sixteen”?). Ryane was immediately faced with opposition and quickly realized his dream was going to take more time than he had originally thought. In the following years, Ryane persisted in trying to work with the DNR and state legislation to get the project completed. Even while overseas seven years later, Ryane was continuously in contact with family and officials at home, working tirelessly to get it done.
But he was never able to see his dream come true. Ryane was killed in action before the project was approved.
It wasn’t until 2014 that the project was finally passed and set to be completed. The paving of the lot is supposed to commence later this summer, and project dedication is scheduled for September 27th of this year...IF they can raise enough money.
In addition to the paved lot, the hope is to create a small (and well-deserved) memorial for Ryane at the site. Customizable brick pavers are being sold to raise money for the task. Though he would have been too humble to accept it, Ryane is more than deserving of the memorial, and to be honest, I can't think of anyone more deserving of a donation. The LEAST we can all do is help ensure this project and the memorial are completed, and thus, ensure Ryane's dream is seen through. I challenge all of you to join me in purchasing a paver (or two or three) to show our respect and admiration for this community hero. (purchase HERE) Throw in with friends or family or buy one or two or three on your own. For me, I know it's the least I can do to show my respect.
But this isn’t just about my community - Ryane was an admirable member of society and should be recognized as a hero, just as those making similar contributions in other communities around the world should be. It’s these soft spoken heroins who oftentimes don’t make the headlines, don't "go viral" on the internet, and aren't mentioned by news stations for their actions because they require no praise, yet continue to fight for what is right and work to protect and care for the people around them. Not because they have to, but because they want to.
Ryane is a hero and should be recognized as one.
Thank you, Ryane, for being a leader, for being a patriot, and for being a role model not only for youth, but adults and elders alike. Thank you for simply being a good human, caring for those around you, and taking the initiative to fight for what you believe in.
He gave us the chance to live the American Dream. The least we can do is support his.
"America is a tune. It must be sung together."*
Let's sing together. And let's sing for those who can't.
*Gerald Stanley Lee, Crowds