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Dick Ryon gets honored with his own day at CSSV

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NORTH BEND - It was almost fitting that Children's Services of Sno-Valley (CSSV) choose a cold, rainy day last week to honor its longtime friend and benefactor Dick Ryon.

Ryon remarked that such days make him even more thankful that CSSV exists to give children in need a warm, safe place to grow and learn. CSSV Executive Director Nancy Whitaker added that last week's rain would have flooded the floors of the North Bend-based organization's old location on Epsilon Street in Snoqualmie, which would have caused all activities to be canceled.

"What you kids have here is so wonderful," Ryon told a group of 3-5 year olds he visited at CSSV last Wednesday.

CSSV is happy to have Ryon as a supporter, rain or shine. The organization has benefited from Ryon's support and charity for more than 10 years. When CSSV has counted its blessings, Ryon's name has come up often; so often that the organization realized it had to honor him and named Dec. 8 (Ryon's birthday) Dick Ryon Day.

"Dick received a standing ovation at our annual meeting last month when we announced 'Dick Ryon Day.' It is the first time anyone has been honored in this way by our organization and he really deserves special recognition for his many years of distinguished service on our behalf," said CSSV Director of Development Gregory Malcolm. "He is truly a champion for our cause and has always shown such compassion and generosity to the children and families we serve."

As an organization that serves needy children, CSSV has drawn the personal support of many people in the Valley who have a kind of visceral connection to helping families. Ryon was no exception. After his parents divorced, Ryon and his three sisters were raised by their mother, Louise, pretty much on her own. Ryon said the stress of raising the children by herself probably led to her early death, leaving him motherless at 13.

The experience stuck with Ryon throughout his life and he looked for ways to protect children from the kind of situation he had growing up. He got a chance to do so after making his way to the Valley. Ryon's career started out in retail management in Los Angeles, but he eventually got a forest management degree from the University of Washington in 1978. He was hired by Weyerhaeuser and went to work in the woods around Coos Bay, Ore. In 1984, Ryon was promoted and brought to Washington where he looked over three tree farms, one of which was the Snoqualmie Tree Farm just outside Snoqualmie.

While his commute dictated he live in Bellevue, Ryon said he always felt closer to the Valley than anywhere else and it was there he looked to give back to the community. At church, he heard about CSSV. Ryon saw a little of himself in the needy children of the Valley and decided to get involved.

When Ryon started volunteering in 1992, CSSV (then called the Sno-Valley Development Center) was run on a lot of love and a little money. Staff with advanced degrees were making the drive out to the Valley for little pay. There were eight staff members and a budget of right around $200,000. The organization had fund raisers that garnered, on a good night, about $15,000.

"We were auctioning barrels of [anti-freeze]," Ryon said.

The organization's board, on which Ryon served, made a list of needs and one was a new location. Ryon started working with other philanthropic-minded individuals to secure a site on Boalch Avenue. To get the new location built, Ryon helped with CSSV's largest capital campaign ever in the 1990s, which raised just under $1 million in one year, an unheard of amount for a Valley organization.

Ryon has continued to be involved with CSSV. He served as its board president and continues to serve as an emeritus board member. Now, CSSV employs 32 staff members with a budget of $1.5 million. CSSV's recent fall fund raiser brought in $160,000. About 1,200 children a year are served by CSSV programs.

The numbers are impressive, but Ryon said CSSV has never been based around figures. He said it is the spirit of the organization that has kept it afloat since it first started in 1980. Those who become involved are never just attending a job or looking to do a requisite community service. Everyone has a history or experience like his own that has made them want to make the Valley a better place for children in need.

"No one comes here to get their ticket punched," he said.

Ryon himself is reluctant to be recognized by name since there were so many other volunteers before him who built CSSV when it was even smaller. He started listing names, but gave up for fear he would leave out somebody. Whitaker said that Ryon will stick out as a person the organization could always rely on. She said CSSV has survived because Valley residents have always managed to find a way to save it during its low points and having a friend like Ryon has been a life saver.

"He believes in our cause with all his heart and it really shows," she said.

Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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