When you ask anyone who knew Don Ryder how they would describe him, they all say the same thing; he was a very private and quiet individual, a man who mainly kept to himself. Upon his death in 2015, this private man did something that showed just how much he cared about his community.
When Don died last year at the age of 81, his will directed that his entire estate – 150 acres of land, his home and all of his belongings, valued at approximately $750,000 – be donated to the Donald W. Ryder Fund.
Before he passed away, Don lived alone at his home on the outskirts of Baldwinsville. He was incredibly proud of designing and building his home and barn exactly how he wanted. He spent endless hours each day maintaining his land and taking care of his home. His neighbors, John and Mike Kerniski, described the care he put into his home and land as meticulous – no detail was too small.
“He kept his place very, very neat.” said John Kerniski, Don’s friend and neighbor since the early 1970s. “His house and storage barn were methodically organized. And he was always well-dressed and well-mannered. I think he took pride in being well-presented.”
Because of his private nature, not much is known about Don’s life in his earlier years. He mentioned in passing that he served in the Army, and a photo found in his belongings confirmed he trained at Fort Dix Reception Center in 1957. He mentioned that he once owned a stone quarry and paving company in Jamesville, however he never spoke in much detail about his business.
While he may have been private, Don was also described by his neighbors and friends as having a softer side. Only a lucky few were invited to see beyond his guarded exterior. Mike Kerniski, John’s son who helped maintain Don’s lawn in his later years, often stopped to chat with him about goings on in the world and his life.
“I felt like I could talk to Don about anything,” said the younger neighbor. “He often told me that you only live once, so do whatever you think is best, take chances and if you fall on your face, you fall on your face – but if not, you gain so much.”
What many didn’t know was that Don was planning to leave a legacy far beyond just good advice doled out to his closest neighbors. He wanted a legacy that included providing support to charity. When it came time to prepare his will many years ago, his estate planning attorney suggested that he speak to us. His attorney knew we could help Don set up a fund that would help local nonprofits, and carefully steward his desire to have the funds help out in specific ways.
“Don’s interests were broad and he was looking for a charity that matched that breadth,” said Jennifer Owens, former senior vice president and chief development officer. “He did a great deal of research on us and gained an appreciation for our commitment to honoring the wishes of those who place their trust in us. Trust did not come easy to Don, but after gaining an understanding of our capabilities and long-standing history in the community, he gained confidence in our abilities to steward his assets as he wished.”
We were well-suited to assist Don with his planned giving. We administers nearly 800 individual funds, each with its own donor-defined purpose and history. We are tasked with continuing to honor the donors’ wishes after they are gone, while addressing the community’s greatest needs as they evolve over time.
Based on his clear direction, the Donald W. Ryder Fund will provide grants to nonprofit organizations for the sole purpose of brick and mortar capital projects – to pay for the construction of new buildings or additions or renovations to existing facilities. Grants from the fund will be awarded through our Community Grants program. We award more than $2.5 million in Community Grants each year to tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations in Onondaga and Madison counties that serve the fields of arts and culture, civic affairs, education, health, human services and the environment and provides leadership and financial support for focused community initiatives in such areas as literacy, higher education attainment and nonprofit capacity building.
“While he always remained a very private person, I came to know Don over the years and admired his principled and methodical approach to his life,” said Owens. “What will stick with me about Don is the generous, warm and funny personality that was just beneath his guarded exterior. He didn’t let many people see his caring side, but he was a generous guy at heart.”
Thanks to Don’s generosity, we will be able to support a number of worthy causes in the Central New York community that are looking to expand or improve their services by enhancing their facilities. He had a generous heart, indeed.