H. Allen Ryan ’64 died on September 21, 2019, in Augusta, Maine.
(The following notice was shared by President Rose on September 23, 2019)
To the Bowdoin community:
I write with the sad news that Howard Allen “Al” Ryan, innovative businessman, philanthropist, and trustee emeritus of the college, died Saturday at the age of seventy-seven following a courageous battle with cancer. A devoted member of the Bowdoin community since he joined it as a member of the Class of 1964, Al was a resident of Manchester, Maine, and Marco Island, Florida.
Born March 21, 1942, in Salem, Massachusetts, Al grew up in nearby Beverly. He attended Beverly High School, where he played football, baseball, and basketball and was a member of the chess club and president of the math club. In choosing Bowdoin, he followed in his father’s footsteps—Howard F. Ryan of the Class of 1928. Al majored in history, was on the Dean’s List, and was active in the community as a member of Chi Psi Fraternity and the student council. In his senior year, he was vice president of his class. A strong work ethic was always part of Al’s life, and he credited his experience at Bowdoin with reinforcing the lessons of hard work, honesty, and teamwork.
Athletics were deeply important to Al. He played lacrosse all four years at Bowdoin, as well as basketball during his first year and football from sophomore year on as a standout halfback. He worked at The Bowdoin Orient for two years, sharing sports editing responsibilities as a sophomore. That love of sport never abated; at one point, Al was a scout for the Cony High School football team.
Al once described his most memorable experience at Bowdoin as beating the University of Maine in football at Orono in 1963 to claim the state championship. And he gave back to Bowdoin athletics, including the gift in 2001 of the 87,750-square-foot artificial turf playing field used today by the women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams. The field is named for Al’s father, Howard F. Ryan. Al was also a donor to the Watson Fitness Center and Watson Arena, and he was a regular supporter of the Polar Bear Athletic Fund. More recently, Al supported the project to bring a nine-foot polar bear to the gates of the renovated Whittier Field. “Scenting the Wind,” his classmate Robert Hooke’s sculpture, was dedicated at Reunion Weekend this past May. Al was also a generous supporter of need-blind financial aid at the College, with gifts to the Nels Corey Scholarship Fund and to the Laurent C. and Phyllis T. Pinette Scholarship Fund.
Al married Dianne Johnson of Beverly in 1963, in Brunswick, while they were both still students (Dianne was at Bates). They had four children, Tracey, Stephen (Bowdoin ’88), Andrew, and Michael.
After Bowdoin, Al took a sales job with Oxford Paper Co. in New York City, which he held for three years. He decided he wanted to make his way back to Maine, having come to love and appreciate the state while at Bowdoin. He earned an MBA at the University of Connecticut and entered the wholesale food business with Seiler Food Corp. in Waltham, MA.
In 1970, Al found a life-changing opportunity and moved to Maine with his family to take over food distribution of a division of Joseph Kirschner, a frankfurter and luncheon meat maker in Augusta. In 1982, Al bought the company, began expanding it almost immediately, and rebranding it as a Maine company, NorthCenter.
By 1987, when he was named Maine’s Small Business Person of the Year, Al was distributing over 4,000 items to restaurants, colleges, and foodservice accounts throughout Maine and into New Hampshire. He was an innovative business owner, deploying new marketing tools like having salespeople carry a small tape player in their briefcase so they could show potential customers a five-minute video pitch for NorthCenter. “This business is so competitive,” Al once said, “that if you don’t do a good job, the customer can find somebody the next day who can.”
As chairman of the company, he sold NorthCenter to Performance Food Group in 1999, having shepherded it from $6 million in annual sales to annual sales of $106 million. The company had five employees in 1970 and 250 when he retired.
Al was an active alumnus almost as soon as he left Bowdoin, serving on the reunion committee for his class numerous times. He was a leader for Bowdoin’s 175th Anniversary Capital Campaign and was elected to the board of trustees in 2006 and served on many trustee committees, including the Student Affairs Committee, which he chaired from 2011 to 2014. He was also co-chair of the Class of 1964 50th Reunion Committee. Al was elected trustee emeritus in 2016.
Al was deeply loyal and generous to Bowdoin, and also to Thomas College in central Maine, where many of his employees had gone to school. He served on Thomas’s board of trustees and, in 2008, Al received an honorary doctor of science in business administration from the Waterville college.
Al served on many community boards, including those of the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed and the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee, Florida. Founded in 1984 to “break the cycle of poverty through education,” the Guadalupe Center was especially important to Al. He served as both a board member and the center’s treasurer, and he was instrumental, as he put it, in “raising the Polar Bears flag” among the high school students serving as tutors at the center—several of whom later matriculated at the College. The Guadalupe Center has also long served as a destination for Bowdoin students participating in Alternative Spring Break Trips, and Al took a special interest in meeting with Bowdoin students to talk about their experience there.
He also served on the board of directors for the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Capitol Area Board of Trade, and the West Side Neighborhood Association, a group he cofounded, and he was a member of the board of directors of Key Bank of Maine.
Al and Dianne have long been active members of their community and, in 2015, were honored jointly with the John Bridge Award in recognition of their commitment to the Kennebec Valley YMCA and the Youth and Families of the Kennebec Valley Community.
Al is survived by Dianne, his children Tracey, Stephen, Andrew, and Michael, as well as his grandchildren.
Visiting services will be held at Plummer Funeral Home (16 Pleasant Street, Augusta, ME) on Wednesday, September 25, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. and from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Funeral services will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 26, at St. Mary’s Church (41 Western Ave., Augusta, ME). Also on Thursday, the family will host a celebration of life for family and friends at the Augusta Country Club (19 Hammonds Grove, Manchester, ME) from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
As is true for so many in our community, Julianne and I are fortunate to have called Al our friend. He was devoted to his family, he gave unselfishly of himself to so many people in so many ways, and he loved the College. Bowdoin is a better place because of Al. I know you join me and Julianne in conveying our heartfelt condolences to Dianne and to the entire Ryan family.