Who needs retirement?

Published 10:02 pm Monday, December 20, 2010

BUCHANAN — For a rare group of people, retirement is just an excuse to do more work.

Count Don Ryman among them.

When he retired from Clark Equipment Co. in Buchanan after 32 years serving as corporate counsel for the former Fortune 500 company, he entered the world of local politics at age 66.

This year Ryman chose not to run for office after 16 years of service on the Berrien County Board of Commissioners. But the 82-year-old Buchanan resident still isn’t calling it quits.

Ryman, who participated in his last board meeting as District 11 commissioner Thursday, was appointed to three-year terms on the county Loan Administration Board and the Economic Development Board.

He also is the chairperson for the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the president of the Clark Salaried Retirees Club and is active with the Buchanan Preservation Society.

And he’s not ruling out joining other boards and commissions as well.

Ryman said the timing just felt right to retire from the county board but believes he would still be capable of handling county business.

“In terms of my mind, I’m in real good shape,” he said. “On the other hand, I didn’t want to be the Robert Byrd of the Berrien County Commissioners.”

Ryman believes his age and experience living in Berrien County for more than 50 years was an asset to the board.

“I may have set a record for age on the county commission,” he said. “But I bring a lot of experience.”

His peers agree.

“The wisdom and knowledge you have, if I could bottle it up, it would be a true treasure,” board chairperson Dave Pagel said at Thursday’s meeting.

Ryman grew up in East Canton, Ohio and attended Ohio State University and Harvard Law School, followed by four years in the U.S. Navy.

The job at Clark Equipment Co. brought him to Buchanan — a place he has grown to love.

His passion for south county has been very clear in his service on the board of commissioners.

Ryman has taken every opportunity at board meetings to lobby for moving county facilities to the middle of the county.

“Putting the county seat in a remote location in the northwest part of the county, that was never right,” he said. “It was done at an election in 1895 and just carried by 250 votes out of 12,000. It’s been a sore subject here in south county.”

Ryman was one of only two commissioners to vote against buying 48 acres of land in Benton Township to build a future Berrien County campus.

Although his unswerving devotion to south county caused some heated debates among commissioners, Ryman had his peers’ respect.

“When I think of Buchanan, I think of you,” Commissioner Robert Wooley said at Thursday’s meeting. “You are always looking out for your district.”

Among Ryman’s proudest accomplishments is helping get the Dayton Lake Dam fixed in the 1990s.

“If it had not been fixed, flooding could have taken out the Amtrak tracks and U.S. 12,” he said. “It could have have been a very serious thing.”

Ryman was also instrumental in separating the Buchanan Senior Center from the Niles Senior Center.

“It was never right that Buchanan didn’t get its own senior center,” he said.

Given Ryman’s experience on the board and his extensive knowledge of county history, the Buchanan Preservation Society has asked him to pen a history of the city.

With a little bit of time freed up, he just might have the opportunity to do so.

Who needs retirement?