PORT TOWNSEND — Peggy and Joe Ryan met as volunteers at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Both widowed, they knew they were perfect for each other.
While they were alive, the Ryans valued education and stable housing. Their legacy will continue to have an impact now that they’re gone.
The Ryans bequeathed more than $170,000 each to the Marine Science Center and Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, gifts that are being put to use with long-term planning and construction.
A public reception to honor the Ryans will be held at 3 p.m. May 30 at the Marine Science Center Museum, 532 Battery Way, Port Townsend.
“Home ownership is harder and harder to achieve,” said Meg Cotner, Peggy’s daughter. “Mom never gave us the idea that renting was a bad thing. She understood its value. She understood it’s a lot of responsibility to own a home.”
Cotner, who works as a writer and editor in Portland, Ore., said her mom always liked science and marine animals.
“I’m really happy she chose to put her money there, and I think both gifts will help a lot of people now and in the future,” she said. “A lot of people are really going to benefit from her gifts, and that’s a really good thing.”
When Peggy Whyte Ryan first moved to Port Townsend and was looking for ways to connect with the community, she went to volunteer at the Marine Science Center. Before she knew it, she had spent two hours there, and she went back the next day.
“In my experience in my first days here, it was the same thing,” said Janine Boire, the executive director of the Marine Science Center. “You can spend hours and hours of being in this place with the extraordinary people. It’s not only mesmerizing but really welcoming.”
Peggy, who worked for more than 15 years at the nonprofit Thacher Boarding School in Ojai, Calif., helped to raise funds so children could afford to attend. She was volunteering as a docent in the Marine Science Center aquarium when she met Joe, who also was a volunteer.
Joe grew up on Long Island Sound in New York and was stationed with the U.S. Navy in Panama before he earned a master’s degree in counseling. He practiced for many years in Eugene, Ore., before he moved to Port Townsend.
Joe died in November 2017 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Peggy died in September 2018 following a battle against a brain tumor.
“They had what some people have said was the most rewarding experience of their lives together,” Boire said.
Cotner said she got a chance to see her mother’s pride in her volunteer work at the Marine Science Center.
“She brought me there once and was very proud to show me where the touch tank was,” Cotner said. “She had a lot of pride in her work there.”
Peggy’s appreciation for Habitat for Humanity comes from purchasing furnishings through the store for many of her rental homes throughout the years and believing in Habitat’s mission of providing affordable housing, Cotner said.
“Housing was really dear to her over her lifetime,” said Jamie Maciejewski, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County. “She knew her gifts could make a difference.”
Two years ago, Habitat received a separate gift close to the same amount, and the funds have helped the organization hire a construction manager who can supervise 200 or more volunteers as they build houses, Maciejewski said.
The East Jefferson County branch has finished two homes since Jan. 1 and plans to increase its annual output from four homes to five, Maciejewski said.
“This will allow us to do more to have more people in stable, decent housing,” she said.
“Our board is still working through the details of how this specific gift will be used. [The Ryans’] intention is for it be a transformative gift for the long term.”
At the Marine Science Center, Boire said some of the funds are being used in a planning phase with the state Parks and Recreation Commission as it explores several options at Fort Worden State Park.
One alternative includes removing the Marine Science Center’s aquarium from the pier.
Part of the gift eventually will help capital improvements at the facilities, which have not had a significant renovation for nearly 20 years, Boire said.
“It couldn’t have been better timing,” she said. “It’s such an extraordinary gift, and we will be forever grateful both for what they did as volunteers and this lasting gift that is providing a foundation for the future.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].