Countdown to IPM '17 - Ryans honour Marianna by hosting IPM
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Jack Ryan, his children and grandchildren are all serving as hosts for this year’s IPM in Walton. The roots of this endeavour, however, are strongly tied to Jack’s wife Marianna, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2012.
The Ryan farm is the setting for the IPM’s tented city, but nearly a dozen landowners have come together to make the match a reality, including the Ringgenberg family, whose land will host the RV park.
The Ryans have been involved with the IPM planning since 2013. In June of 2013, the Huron County Plowmen’s Association announced that Walton would be the home of the 100th IPM and that Ryan’s farm would be the focal point.
Since then, the Ryan family, in many ways, has become the face of the match, with many telling the story of its generations of farm families and rich Huron County roots.
The Ryans have been featured extensively in Huron County’s marketing materials for the match, serving as the models for the IPM’s official poster, which, in one picture spans four generations of the family.
The family’s roots in Huron County are only the beginning when it comes to Walton’s connection with the history of agriculture and competitive plowing in the country. With the historic 100th IPM on the line, holding it in a community with such rich history in the world of competitive plowing like Walton – the home of so many provincial, national and international champions, not to mention many, many faces behind various plowing organizations – is a symbolic gesture in itself.
Jack Ryan was first approached about potentially hosting the match at his farm in the fall of 2012. Despite being approached by Henry Grobbink, a relative who has been involved with competitive plowing for a very long time, Ryan says he was hesitant and decided the timing wasn’t quite right.
Then-Huron County Plowmen’s Association President Brian McGavin, however, returned to the Ryans in the spring of 2013 and, as Jack’s son Joe puts it jokingly, turned on his salesman’s charm and soon enough the Ryan family was on board, but not before a family-wide consensus was reached.
In an emotional interview with The Citizen, Jack and his son Joe and daughter Peggy Sloan say the decision went much deeper than competitive plowing and community spirit and was viewed within the family as a tale of rural triumph and perseverance through tough times.
“We definitely looked at it as a celebration,” Joe said. “My parents went through a lot of hard times. They worked through really tough times just to make ends meet, so to have something like [the IPM] now, here in Walton, it’s a celebration to be sure.”
Jack lost his wife, Marianna, in 2012 to ovarian cancer, which changed the outlook of the entire family. She was a very special woman for a lot of reasons.
“That was a big factor in this whole deal,” Jack says. “We’ve been through a lot of challenges, a lot of stress over 43 years of marriage.”
Sloan says that her parents were soulmates and that their marriage has served as an example to all of their children: Joe Ryan, Peggy Sloan, Monica Ryan and Steve Ryan.
“They taught us the importance of marriage, how it is a true partnership and how absolutely beautiful marriage can be,” Sloan said. “They gave of themselves for each other and for their family.”
Marianna was a dedicated farm wife, working as hard and sometimes harder than Jack did on the farm. She also worked as a registered nurse after going back to school to learn the trade.
“She should be all in this mix,” Jack says. “She was a farm girl.”
Jack and his children described Marianna as a special woman who will always hold a place in their hearts. She was a farm girl at heart, Jack said, which is why he felt hosting the IPM at their farm was a fitting tribute.
Sloan says that while Marianna may have passed away in 2012, she’s still very much with the family and she’ll continue to be with them as their family farm hosts the IPM. “She’ll be keeping an eye on us,” Sloan says.
Joe says that his mother always did everything she could to help the family, even if it meant returning to school at an advanced age.
“When things got tough around the farm, Mom went back to school,” Joe said. “I think that meant a lot to dad.”
Over four decades, Jack ran a bulldozer and farmed farrow-to-finish pigs and cash crops at the family’s Walton farm.
While there was plenty of work to do both at work and at home, Jack and Marianna always carved out time for each other and for their children.
Sloan said there were days when her father would bulldoze from dawn to dusk only to do the farm’s chores when he got home. However, Marianna would often keep the children up long enough so they could see their father every day and spend time with him.
Marianna spent over 43 years working on the farm alongside Jack, and later her children. When Jack fell through their barn floor and crushed some of the vertebrae in his back, Marianna, with the help of a few labourers, tended to three barns full of pigs and a house full of children during the three months her husband was hospitalized.
Not only has Marianna been memorialized in the form of a beautiful handmade barn quilt on the front of Jack’s home, but her name will also be spoken by thousands of IPM visitors as the site’s most prominent street has been named after her.
Marianna Avenue runs the full length of the tented city, reaching both the most northern and most southern areas of the site. IPM Chair Jacquie Bishop thought it was crucial that Marianna be remembered for these five days in September. Jack says he thinks it’s really special that his late wife will be remembered in this way and thanks Bishop for taking the initiative to do so.
Bishop has nothing but the highest praise for the Ryans, who she says have been fantastic partners along the way dating all the way back to 2013.
“The Ryan family has been fully supportive of our team and have been willing participants in whatever we throw at them,” Bishop said. “They are a community-minded family with deep roots in the area. They value the importance of being involved and being engaged. They have strong family values and traditions that truly showcase and depict what it means to be a Huron County family.”
When it came time to decide whether or not the Ryan farm should be the host of the 2017 IPM, Jack insisted he not make the decision alone.
He called all of his children to Walton so they could meet and sign off on his decision. Unless all four of his children were in favour, he says, he wouldn’t have gone through with it.
“Having the kids here was important,” Jack says. “This has always been a family farm.”
Jack is right about that, as he has, over the course of his life, simply worked his way around his current property block.
Jack was born on a farm just south of his current farm and over the course of his life, his homes have remained on the same block, in one location or another.
The family’s first relatives in the area settled in McKillop Township in 1855 and it was Jack’s grandfather, Robert, who then bought the family’s current farm property in 1895.
In the years since the 2013 announcement, the Ryan farm has been home to a number of notable IPM-related events, including the unveiling of the event’s official sign. In addition, Ryan and his grandchildren were front and centre during a special ceremony last September in which dirt from the 2016 IPM near Harriston was transferred via parade to Brussels to begin the one-year countdown to the 2017 IPM.
Ryan’s grandchildren were the ones to pour the dirt from the Wellington County site into a pot containing a tree that was then planted at Ryan’s home.