The Recreational Aviation Foundation is saddened to share news of Agnes “Butchie” Ryan’s passing in the early hours of March 15. Butchie and her husband, the late Ben Ryan had generously donated their northwest Montana airfield property to the RAF so it could be shared with the public forever. The RAF was not only blessed with the gift of land, it was enriched with Ryans’ friendship and their life story.
RAF Chairman John McKenna said, “From the first time I met the Ryans in 2002, until Butchie’s passing these twenty years later, the Ryans were an example of lives very well lived. Generosity and humility are two traits that come to mind.”
Agnes Butchkosky was raised in Jeddo, PA, daughter of a hard rock miner who’d emigrated from Austria as a teenager. Butchie’s mother managed to care for the family of seven in spite of labor strikes. Butchie’s father brought home empty wooden charge boxes for the children to play with. “I turned mine into a desk for my nurse’s station,” she recalled, and following that passion, she graduated from nursing school in 1944.
She was determined to join the Army Nurse Corps, even though she was too short. She piled her hair on top of her head with plenty of hairpins. It made her just tall enough. “Our generation was willing to step up and it was what I wanted to do,” she said.
Butchie was assigned to the hospital ship, Republic to serve the injured soldiers anticipated in the planned invasion of Japan. The ship broke down near the Panama Canal and waited a month for parts. Ben Ryan, a dashing Army Lieutenant flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings on sub patrol, was stationed at Howard Air Force Base nearby. He’d survived bailing out of his P-38, possibly something they talked about during that blind date that changed their lives forever.
After the War, Butchie was stationed at the Army Hospital in Aurora, CO to treat tuberculosis patients. Following their nine-month courtship, Ryans were married in a Denver hospital chapel on June 8, 1946.
Agnes “Butchie” Ryan, 1922-2022
Ben was honorably discharged and roughnecked on an oil well near Livingston, MT.
Stanford was their home for the next three years where Ben earned his petroleum engineering degree while Butchie worked in the Palo Alto Hospital.
Ben’s career with Richfield Oil began in September 1949, and his duties sent the couple near Bakersfield, then to Wyoming, and Caracas, Venezuela where they left amidst the chaos of a military coup. They transferred to Los Angeles, then to Alaska in 1961. Butchie was cooking moose stew for guests when the 1964 earthquake hit. The whole house pitched and swayed, and they hurried to high ground in the car to avoid a possible tsunami wave.
Ben was responsible for Alaska oil exploration. When his field crew reported promising oil sands near Prudhoe Bay, Ben agreed that Richfield should invest in it, and he and his crew were credited with the discovery of the North Slope oil field.
After retiring, they bought a quarter section of forest near West Glacier, MT in 1966. They built an A-frame home, and Ben designed and built a sawmill from which he sawed lumber to build a shop, outbuildings and hangar where he built several aircraft.
Their land could accommodate a 2,500-foot turf runway, and Ben cleared trees, and filled low spots with a one-and-a-half-yard front loader to create meadow-like Ryan Field, at the base of Strawberry Mountain.
Butchie saw yellow and purple iris growing wild along the highway and took the liberty to transplant a few bulbs around their home. They flourished, and she freely gave bulbs to others so they could enjoy the cheerful Spring color.
In 2005, Ryans began incrementally donating their property to the RAF so the airfield could be used by the public in perpetuity. In 2008, Ryan Field was dedicated at a fly-in and barbecue. The honored couple held hands and enjoyed the camaraderie throughout the June weekend.
Ben and Butchie moved to the Montana Veteran’s Home in Columbia Falls in 2012, and Ben passed away at age 94 in July of 2017. Now when the yellow and purple iris bloom around Ryan Field, it will serve as a tribute to Butchie and her love for the land and its beauty.
Visitors quickly realize that Ryan Field, 2MT1 is a treasure, and are grateful for the opportunity to enjoy recreational aviation in its beautiful setting so close to Glacier National Park. The RAF will be forever grateful for this opportunity to be stewards of the property, and the Ryan Legacy.
A memorial service with military honors was held graveside Tuesday, March 22 at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Columbia Falls, MT.
Submitted on March 16, 2022.