When honorary degree recipient Barb Ryan was contacted to provide a few comments about being recognized by the University of Regina, she was involved in the signature activity of her life: being “Mom” to her extended family of refugees, immigrant families and international students. In this case, she had just helped place a young refugee into the motor mechanics program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
“I have four kids, and I will mother anyone who will let me,” she says.
Mothering her four active, growing kids – Erica, Jill, Steve, and Jon – gave her good connections with a lot of people in the community. Now, she puts these connections into action whenever one of her other “kids” needs help.
After her husband Bob died at age 54, Ryan joined the Regina Wascana branch of the Canadian Progress Club (CPC), which had provided the down payment for a settlement house for refugees. Through the club, she was introduced to the Regina Open Door Society (RODS) and the work that it does for newcomers. Ryan was deeply moved. “The stories of what these people had endured hit me hard,” she says. “Their resilience is inspiring. I have such respect for these people.”
Ryan has also been involved with fundraising for charities, including the Progress Club’s Festival of Trees and the Champagne Classic women's golf tournament in support of the children’s ward at the Regina General Hospital.
Since then, Ryan has hosted two families from Africa and a refugee family of eight from Syria, showing them the city, helping them with everyday issues and in learning English. Through them, she has met many other families in the immigrant community and been inspired to help them connect with each other. Working with CPC Regina Wascana and RODS, she started a support group called Women to Women, where members teach newcomer women a skill or craft while visiting over coffee. Through the World University Service of Canada program at the U of R, Ryan has become “mom” to students from other countries who are away from their families.
“The Syrian kids regularly come to my place to cook their traditional food. We always have a nice time eating and visiting,” she says.
Ryan has also been involved with fundraising for charities, including the Progress Club’s Festival of Trees and the Champagne Classic women's golf tournament in support of the children’s ward at the Regina General Hospital. She is a consummate networker, using her contacts to scrounge furniture and other household necessities, arrange educational placements and find jobs for members of her extended family.
For her tireless efforts in the community, Ryan has been recognized with the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award, the 2016 Red Cross Humanitarian Award, the Senate 150th anniversary medal and, earlier this year, the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal. She was delighted when University of Regina President Vianne Timmons informed her over lunch that she was to receive an honorary degree. “It’s an honour, and it’s lovely to have your labour of love recognized in the community,” Ryan says. “I tell my grandkids we are really lucky to live here and I try to show them we have to share; we have to give back.”
Ryan receives her honorary degree on June 5, 2019.