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June 5, 2019

SVSU community remembers life and legacy of former President Jack Ryder

Family, friends and colleagues recalled how former Saginaw Valley State University President Jack M. Ryder used grit and determination to mold an institution that stands stronger today because of his hard work during a ceremony honoring the late president. Ryder, who led the institution from 1974-89, died in April at the age of 90.

In a tribute to Ryder that filled SVSU’s Founders Hall Tuesday, June 4, attendees listened to stories about the former president's tireless efforts to seek support both for developing outstanding academic programs and for funding many of the buildings that form the campus' structural backbone today.

Among former colleagues who paid tribute was current SVSU President Donald Bachand, who began his career at SVSU as a criminal justice professor when Ryder served as president. Bachand said Ryder's commitment in the 1970s and ’80s to developing strong academic programs by hiring top-talent faculty continues to impact the university in 2019. Under Ryder's guidance, SVSU added highly-regarded academic programs in engineering and nursing, among others.

"I couldn't imagine what this institution would look like today if we hadn't created those programs back then," Bachand said. "He brought everyone into this dream for a stronger campus; a better community. He was a man of great vision, character and kindness - and he was a great friend to me."

Robert Yien, a retired SVSU administrator who served alongside Ryder, recalled how his former colleague was determined to change the name of Saginaw Valley College to Saginaw Valley State College in 1974 because of the frequent public confusion with nearby Delta College at that time. In 1987, Ryder went a step further in strengthening SVSU's identity as a baccalaureate institution when he mobilized several state colleges in a successful campaign to become known as state universities.

“I learned a lot from him,” Yien said. “I learned how to be a dreamer, a risk-taker, a gentleman and how to get things done.”

Under Ryder's leadership, a number of buildings were constructed that remain part of SVSU's central campus. During his first years as president, Ryder's administration struggled to secure funding from state politicians for those structures.

Eugene Hamilton, a retired SVSU administrator who worked with Ryder, recalled how the former president's determined efforts - despite several failed meetings with seemingly inconvincible legislators - eventually swayed Lansing to support the projects.

“He was a man of true grit,” Hamilton said. “Jack M. Ryder was wise, humble, considerate, relentless and persevering. His legacy is clearly evidenced at this university.”

Among the buildings erected during his presidency were Pioneer Hall, Brown Hall, Zahnow Library, the Arbury Fine Arts Center, the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum and the athletics facility named after him, the Ryder Center.

Ryder spent his last years living in North Carolina with his wife, Lila, who attended Tuesday's ceremony. Her son – Ryder's stepson – told those in attendance how the former president continued to advocate for higher education in his later years. Ryder sought support for an initiative that would allow students to exchange time spent performing public services for tuition savings.

“He wanted to figure out a way to get education to more people,” said Thomas Owens, Ryder's stepson. “This was what he was thinking about until his last day.”

Tuesday's memorial was captured on video. To watch the 40-minute ceremony, visit: