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October 29, 1886-June 29, 1989
This article was written by Martha Cunningham for the Minonk News-Dispatch in 1986 and is being displayed with her permissionLong-time Minonk assistant postmaster John Ryan will mark an important milestone October 29. He will be one hundred years old. He is looking forward to the event as eagerly as a 15 year old waits for the magic 16th birthday that allows him to get a driver's license.
"I'm living on borrowed time," Ryan says, grinning. "I don't know whose it is, but if I can get anymore, I'll take it."
Looking back on a career that spanned nearly half a century, and a life that has spanned a century, Ryan has many memories. The years have been good to him; he still has a twinkle in his eye and a laugh for a good story.
One of his favorite stories involves his marriage to Sophie Hinrichs, his wife of 56 years.
"We eloped," Ryan said, "and we left town so fast the horse died."
The year was 1906. Evidently the parents of the couple felt they were too young to marry and withheld their permission for the wedding. Young Ryan and his sweetheart went to St. Joseph, Michigan for their wedding.
"We'd had seen an advertisement saying anyone of any age could be married there," Ryan says, "and we decided to go."
Photograph by Martha Cunningham
Photograph by Martha Cunningham
"Harry Fallon drove us to El Paso," Ryan recalls, "and we took the TP&W from there to Michigan. Harry drove so fast his horse died after the trip."
"Our parents learned where we were before we were gone a day," he continues, "but I guess they decided it was all right. We didn't get back to Minonk for a week."
Ryan's 42-year career with the Minonk Post Office began when his own father, William H. "Tonica" Ryan was postmaster. Young Ryan, who had attended Illinois Wesleyan University and later worked at Riley Law Office in Minonk, began as a clerk. He later became assistant postmaster, a position he held until his retirement in 1956.
"We were in the old post office then," he remembers. That building was in the block east of the current Minonk Post Office.
"In those days," Ryan says, "a postal employee had to take an exam every year to keep his job. Now they only take it once."
Home mail delivery didn't come to Minonk until after World War II. Instead, people rented boxes at the post office, or depended on general delivery.
"The mail used to arrive seven times a day back then," Ryan remembers. "A lot of time we went back to work after supper to stay caught up. The mail was all hand-stamped then so it took longer."
Mail sorted in the evening was not usually available to the recipients until the next day, but during the war years Ryan performed a small service that is fondly remembered by families of servicemen. He'd always sort the G.I. mail and immediately let families and girlfriends know if they had a letter from overseas.
Ryan has seen many changes in the post office. When he began his career, postage for a first class letter cost two cents. There was no airmail.
"We did a lot more money orders back then, too," he remembers, "because fewer people had checking accounts at banks. And postal savings accounts were very popular."
After his wife died in 1962, Ryan and his sister, Marie Ryan, shared a home until she died 13 years later. Ten years ago, long time friends and neighbors, Bob and Mildred Cremer left their own home to live with Ryan. He moved to Lida Home slightly over a year ago.
"But he still likes to go out to eat," said Mrs. Cremer. "His favorite trip is going to Rutland for chicken and seeing all the people. And he loves to go for car rides to see what is going on around town," she adds.
Baseball still occupies some of Ryan's attention, too. When he was younger, he pitched for the Minonk Community High School team. He still follows the White Sox.
Ryan didn't retire from the post office until he was 70. Normally, Mrs. Cremer explained, 65 was retirement age. "John was so sharp," she said, "they gave him a five year extension. All the postmasters he worked under had high praise for him," she said "and always said he was very meticulous in his work."
Ryan has pictures that recall other aspects of his early life. One shows him in a classroom at the old Minonk High School just before his graduation in 1906. Another shows him in uniform with the Illinois Promenade Band of Minonk, his cornet in hand, on a street in Pekin.
One hundred years is a birthday few get to celebrate. Fewer celebrate it in as good health as Ryan will.