Family Legacy Empowers a Generation of Learners

When unforgettable people make an impact on those around them, it can affect countless lives. When an entire family impacts those around them, generations of individuals have the potential to be touched.

Such is the legacy of the Ryan family, whose dedication to Mount Mercy University and the pursuit of learning has resulted in a rich and remarkable legacy on the Hill.

James and Ellen (O’Neil) Ryan instilled in their nine children the importance of education and the value of knowledge. All four Ryan girls attended Mount Mercy, and their experiences impacted their parents. When James and Ellen passed away, their children knew exactly how to honor them—through a Mount Mercy endowed scholarship.

The James and Ellen O’Neil Ryan Endowed Scholarship was created in 1986. “They’d be pleased,” said Katie Ryan Schmidt RN’54 of her parents. “Dad always said that what you have in your head they can’t tax or take away.”

The tradition of establishing endowed scholarships first began with Mary Veronica Ryan Arnold ’42, eldest daughter of the Ryans. When her husband, Orrin, passed away, Mary Arnold honored his memory; with the Orrin L. and Mary Veronica Ryan Arnold Endowed Scholarship. That scholarship led to more. Now, four endowed scholarships honoring members of the Ryan family are awarded to Mount Mercy students each fall.

A unique chapter in this family’s history is their multiple connections with the university. The Ryan’s four daughters are all alumni–Mary Veronica Ryan Arnold ’42, Sister Monica Ryan JC’44, Margaret Ryan RN’49 and Katie Ryan Schmidt RN’54. The Ryan parents were not the only ones who advocated on behalf of education; Sister Monica served as a beloved Mount Mercy philosophy professor from 1955 to 1994.

Suzie Cook

But perhaps no greater manifestation of a love of learning can be found than in the Ryans’ granddaughter, Suzie Schmidt Cook ’89, daughter of Katie Ryan Schmidt. Cook passed away from breast cancer in November 2009, but her tremendous outlook on life, tireless work ethic and enthusiasm for enhancing educational opportunities for students will live on through the Suzie Schmidt Cook Endowed Scholarship (Title III).

Cook chose to leave her legacy through the endowed scholarship, which was formally established by her mother in December 2009. “It was her idea to set up a scholarship,” Schmidt said. “She truly believed if you get an education, you can do anything.”

Family, friends, colleagues and classmates have contributed more than $15,000 to Suzie’s endowed scholarship, and the funds all are being matched by the Title III grant, resulting in an endowment of more than $30,000 that honors Cook and her desire to assist students in their pursuit of education. 

The Ryan Family

"They’d be pleased,” says Katie Ryan Schmidt RN’54 of her parents, James and Ellen Ryan, pictured with their children.

“Dad always said that what you have in your head they can’t tax or take away.”