Ben William Ryan, the creator of Ryan Field in Montana, passed away July 26, 2017, at the Montana Veteran’s Home in Columbia Falls. He was 94.
In 2005 Ryan and his wife, Agnes “Butchie” Ryan, donated the field to the Recreational Aviation Foundation.
“Ryan Field is for everyone to enjoy,” he said.
Ryan was born March 21, 1923, in Belleflower, California. His family moved to Three Forks, Montana, in 1931.
In 1932 Ben was introduced to airplanes, a relationship that would last his lifetime. Two Lockheeds landed near town. The pilot boosted young Ben up on his shoulder to retrieve the mail from the baggage compartment.
Ryan entered Stanford University in 1941 to study geology. His interest in petroleum engineering took him all the way to Alaska’s North Slope where he would eventually take part in the discovery of its world-changing oil field.
On the Friday following the Pearl Harbor attack, Ryan enlisted in the Army Reserve as an aviation cadet, and went active duty in May, 1943.
He joined the 32nd Fighter Squadron in September 1944, flying the twin Lockheed P-38.
Ryan met his wife, Agnes “Butchie” Butchovsky, on a blind date. They were married in Denver on June 8, 1946.
After leaving the Army, Ryan roughnecked on an oil well near Livingston, Montana. That fall the couple returned to Stanford to get his petroleum engineering degree. Butchie, a registered nurse, worked at the Palo Alto Hospital.
Ryan joined Richfield Oil Company and monitored wells in California. He was assigned to Wyoming to manage the Mountain States exploration, then in 1956, the company sent Ryans to Caracas, Venezuela. Upon the ouster of Jiménez, they were transferred to Los Angeles. In 1961, they transferred to Anchorage, Alaska.
With two of his fellow employees they purchased a Cessna 172. Ben enjoyed flying, hunting and fishing with a kayak he’d built.
Richfield was a leading explorer in Alaska and Ryan’s job was to recommend where to drill. This was before the North Slope’s significance was known. Ryan concurred on a report about promising oil sands south of Prudhoe Bay and recommended they act soon. Before long, men and material were moving north into what became the Prudhoe Bay oil field.
Ryan left the company in 1965 when Richfield and Atlantic merged and the Ryans moved south.
The couple purchased a quarter section of timbered land above West Glacier, Montana. Together, they built an A-frame home. Ryan designed and built a sawmill from which he sawed lumber to build a shop and hangar.
In the early 1970s, he began clearing the dense lodgepole pine for a 2,500-foot airfield.
Ryan built his first airplane in 1974. The maiden flight was in October, 1977. Butchie had helped in its construction and was not a bit hesitant to fly with Ben. He also built a Fisher Classic biplane, then a World War I Fokker Tri-plane. There were no plans, so he simply enlarged Cleveland model airplane plans.
Ryans were introduced to the Recreational Aviation Foundation in 2005. Its mission to create and maintain recreational airstrips for public enjoyment resonated with them and triggered their desire to donate their property to the RAF, according to association officials.
The couple moved to the Montana Veteran’s Home in Columbia Falls in May 2012.
Ben is survived by his wife of 71 years Agnes “Butchie” Ryan.
Memorials in Ryan’s name may be made to the Recreational Aviation Foundation, 1711 West College St., Bozeman, Montana, 59715 or the charity of your choice.