Nurturing our fire within

A tribute to Pat Ryan O’Day, mentor, community supporter and friend

By Mike McKinney

By Mike McKinney

Pat Ryan O’Day, longtime owner, editor- in-chief and publisher of Marquette Monthly, passed away at U.P. Health System in Marquette on Wednesday, January 14, 2015, following a brief stay at the hospital. Ryan O’Day was the owner of Marquette Monthly for more than twenty years. Marquette Monthly began in 1987 and was purchased by Ryan O’Day in 1992. Under Ryan O’Day’s leadership, Marquette Monthly won numerous Good News Awards, and, in 2011, it received recognition in the Marquette Arts and Culture Awards for its longstanding excellence and contribution to the community. Helping build community was one of Ryan O’Day’s greatest interests and she made certain that good causes and important events found mention in Marquette Monthly, from fundraising support for Public Radio 90 to raising awareness of health and environmental issues and encouraging people to shop locally. Prior to owning Marquette Monthly, Ryan O’Day owned the Action Shopper in Marquette. She was also a board member of The North Wind, NMU’s student newspaper. Many of those student journalists later found jobs at Marquette Monthly. Ryan O’Day loved to encourage and support young people and to show appreciation for those who made special contributions, including supporting 8-18 Media with its own column in MM. Ryan O’Day was involved in numerous other organizations, sat on many boards and constantly did everything she could to strengthen the community. “She was a true leader of the business community who was devoted to helping others become better people, helping businesses to grow and supporting women,” said Babette Welch, longtime friend. “Her thoughtful insight helped the community evolve and become stronger.” Many other past and present employees of MM, and friends of Ryan O’Day had memories to share as well. Here are their anecdotes.


With a Gentle Nudge

by Pam Christensen, PWPL
By Mike McKinney

By Mike McKinney

I really don’t know when it was that I wrote my first article for Marquette Monthly. I suppose I could go to the shelves and look at past issues to see, but it really doesn’t matter. My status as a contributing writer to MM evolved like so many things in life do. I started writing promo pieces about Peter White Public Library once in awhile. I was an English major at Western Michigan University, and I enjoy writing. I could do a story about the library just as easily as could another writer. Then I started suggesting article ideas to Pat. She that, I am so grateful. In the film North Country, about a woman who survived domestic violence and then suffered cruel discrimination as one of the first women to be hired in an iron mine in Minnesota, one of the characters says something that has always stayed with me: “What are you supposed to do when those with power are hurting those with none? For starters, you stand up and tell the truth…. You stand up. Even if it tears you down. You stand up.” Pat was always willing to stand up. Thank you, Pat, for all the lives you helped to make better. You will not be forgotten.


Mister Woman in Charge

by Kristy Basolo-Malmsten, MM

Inever tired of joking and laughing with Pat when she received an email or letter addressed to “Mr. Pat Ryan O’Day.” It was ironic how often that happened considering her support of women as professionals…some kind of karmic encouragement, I’m sure. Her well balanced approach to business included her desire for equality in positions of power, and support of the women who tread in those circles. Pat often pulled Marquette Monthly staffers from the graduates exiting The North Wind staff, which is how I met her. She was on The North Wind board of directors when I was the editor-in-chief. After a particularly tumultuous year as a student journalist, I thought I might have a hard time finding references when it came to applying for jobs after college. And then Pat called and had a job offer for me. Her confidence in me led to a ten-year career with MM, creation of my own publication, adjunct teaching of young journalists at NMU and later advising The North Wind as well. Her encouragement was subtle, and perhaps not noted as such at the time. But Pat had a way of making you feel like you were enough. My last conversation with Pat was about the many local sages we have lost in the last year, and how that will impact the future of the Marquette community: Don Curto, Ted Bogdan, Ray Ventre. Too many, too soon. She said as much in an email, just weeks before her death: “I have said far too many times recently that we are getting too long on legends and too short on curmudgeons.” Sagely words from another mentor for many.


Everyone Has Something to Contribute

by Tyler Tichelaar, MM
Courtesy of the Women’s Center

Courtesy of the Women’s Center

When I think of Pat, the first thing that comes to mind is how she was a people person, and that served her well not only as Marquette Monthly’s owner but also as the person who assigned stories and handled ad sales. Pat deeply cared about what was going on in this community and she had a personal relationship with just about everyone she knew that went beyond just doing business. When she talked to you about other people, she would just use first names and assume you knew everyone as well as she did, not really realizing, I don’t think, what a knack she had for befriending people, largely due to her generous nature. She constantly went out of her way to help organizations and individuals by giving them exposure in Marquette Monthly. She didn’t want solely to sell ads, but to sell ads that would give her customers results, maybe even help a struggling business to stay in business because it was important to a small U.P. community. Pat loved to see people, communities and organizations succeed. In our hectic, fast-paced world, it’s rare to find someone who still always takes the time to ask you about yourself and even your family members— even if she never met them. Pat always did that. And if you had a problem, she would listen, empathize and try to make your life a little easier if she could. She was the first person to offer positive encouragement, and the last to notice your faults. She always had a knack for seeing the possibilities in a person. I truly think she realized that everyone mattered and everyone has something to contribute, and that’s why she never ran out of story ideas for Marquette Monthly about the real people who live here in the U.P. I’ve heard it said that the U.P. is the biggest small town in America. Pat’s efforts have helped to make that true.


The Heart of Production

by Lillian Marks Heldreth

It is a weekday morning in the late 1970s. Imagine a room full of large, slanting racks, on which lie big sheets of blue-lined paper, each sheet divided into columns. Before them stand people, holding up long, narrow strips of paper, then pressing those strips carefully between the column lines. Are they straight? Will they stay? In one corner of this room, a large gray machine clunks and burps. The woman at its keyboard cries, “Oh, no! The headliner’s jammed again!” Another woman sitting at a drawing table, fitting type on a small display ad, jumps up and runs upstairs to Pat’s office. Pat does not hesitate to come when asked. The day the Action Shopper goes to press is not a good time for the headliner to break down because the big ads that really pay the Shopper’s bills almost always come in late in the process, or are subject to the buyer’s last-minute changes. Pushing aside long strips of type drying behind the headliner, Pat challenges the malfunctioning monster, removing housings, making adjustments. If we are lucky, we won’t lose much expensive photo paper in the process. The headliner and typesetter are really big cameras that adjust type sizes by adjusting lenses, combined with chemical baths that develop images. Only Pat can keep this crazy combo running between service calls. Pat is the strong-beating heart of the Action Shopper’s production department. She is its boss, its teacher, even, sometimes literally, its mother, and its handywoman. She can do every job we employees do, but more skillfully, from typesetting to waxing copy to squeezing more words into an overcrowded display ad—and she does all the books. In a whirl of hurrying, stressed people, Pat is the sane center, the one keeping us all in orbit until the job is done, would take a minute to mull the idea over and quickly reply, “Yes, that would be a good story. Why don’t you write it?” So I would do a story about an organization or a program or a person I felt needed to be shared with Marquette Monthly readers. I tell people that Pat was the best boss I ever had, and it is true. She went from saying, “Why don’t you write it?” to “Why don’t you develop a list of ideas and share them with me?” My idea was that those stories would be assigned to other writers; her idea was that I would write them. Soon I would get emails saying, “We are preparing next month’s MM and I was wondering which of your wonderful ideas we should feature?” That meant get on the stick and write. Anyone who spent any time with Pat knows that she saw only the good in people. She pushed them, very gently, to excel, and that is what she did with my writing. She forced me to write with those monthly emails. She encouraged my stories about our crazy adventures: bike rides, snow shelters and more. She always had a kind word, a compliment or a gentle nudge (usually about deadline) no matter how busy she was. And every month she would say, “I have gotten really great feedback on your story, so what are you doing for next month?”


Always Willing to Stand Up

by Sally May, Women’s Center

It was with a deep sense of loss and sadness that I heard of Pat Ryan O’Day’s passing. She was so much an important part of the community it seemed she would always be with us. For me, she was a friend and adviser, whom I always thought would be there. I had the opportunity to work with Pat when she joined the Women’s Center Board of Directors in the mid 1980s here in Marquette. The Women’s Center left NMU in 1980 and became a community-based, private non-profit organization. Those years were initially a struggle and strong, capable, caring women were needed to help move the center forward. Pat was all that and more. Unfailingly realistic but also optimistic, she constantly reminded us how vital it was that the Women’s Center thrive in our community. She gave of her time, talent and resources to shine light on and speak out on the issues of rape, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, equality for women, child advocacy and more. Through it all, and in spite of the fact that there were frequent times of crisis during those years, Pat was always calm and thoughtful when decisions needed to be made. She was considerate of all points of view, and always ready to lighten the discussion with a funny observation. I was so appreciative that she was unfailingly supportive of me and the rest of the staff who were doing the work on a daily basis, and she helped find key support in the community for our programs. All of us learn from those around us, and I learned a great deal from Pat. For the paper “put to bed.” This was the world of Patricia Ryan O’Day, when I worked for her at the Action Shopper. She was, simply, great.


It Must be True

by Carrie Usher, MM

Isn’t that amazing? Can you believe it? These two phrases can be read as questions, but when written or said by Pat, I always heard them as statements. They became truths, with nothing to question. My reactions, whether said aloud or just in my head, were Why yes, that is amazing and No, I can’t believe it—although it must be true. Certain phrases I associate with certain people, and those two phrases will always belong to Pat. I hear her voice even as I type this. I can even hear the excitement in her voice. The change in pitch led me to believe a slight smile and perhaps a laugh would follow. Simple memories such as those put a smile on my face. Although I will never again be able to sit down with her in her living room or answer a phone call from her, I can hear her voice whenever I want. She lives on in everyone she met.


A Whole New World

by Erin Bryan, former MM

I first met Pat when I joined The North Wind board of directors in 2000 as a sophomore English Writing major. I liked Pat immediately and was drawn to her warmth. She was a friendly face during sometimes difficult meetings, and her encouraging smile made me feel comfortable to offer my opinion. Some time later, Pat called and said that she had thought of me to take over the position of MM Calendar Editor. I was thrilled at the prospect, but wasn’t certain I was up to the task. She assured me that I was. Taking that position turned out to be one of the most important decisions that I made. Though I only worked at MM for four years—until I moved to the Twin Cities in 2005—those years were extremely formative for me. During that time, and with Pat’s patience, guidance and encouragement, I evolved as a person and as a writer. Pat continued to give me more responsibility, and I eventually began to pitch and write feature stories, mainly about Ishpeming history that were personally interesting to me. But, most of all, Pat opened up a new world to me, a world of professional writing and community involvement. She introduced me to amazing people, including Don Curto, who became a wonderful mentor and treasured friend, especially when we worked together on Stirring It Up, his collection of MM columns. I sought Pat out for advice when I was considering my move to Minnesota and she was supportive of me every step of the way. She gave me incredible opportunities, and I was ready to show her what I could do next. I will cherish the time I shared with Pat at MM. And when I think of her, I will envision her sitting at the desk in what we call the “board room,” turning when she heard the door open — and smiling at me.


Good Spirits, Unfailing Optimism

by Leonard Heldreth, MM

I’ve been part of Marquette Monthly from its founding in October, 1987, under Mary Kinnunen, right up to the current issue, nearly thirty years later. It’s been a long and satisfying journey. I have been asked if anyone picked the films I reviewed, and the answer is absolutely not. Pat would never have intruded in that fashion, even if she might not have cared for some of the ones I selected. In the same way, she did not modify anything I submitted. In the twentysome years of our relationship, I remember only two times when she asked me to change language, and her suggestions were always better choices, especially when names involving ethnicity, color or gender could often unintentionally function like red flags. One of Pat’s favorite aspects of the Monthly was the yearly short story contest, and every year I agreed to be one of the judges, although I’m sure I gave lower scores to the entries than anyone else. My involvement with Pat extended to areas beyond Marquette Monthly. We served on NMU boards together and jointly attended many functions there. When my four-year term on the Michigan Humanities Council ended, I urged the council to select another U.P. resident, Pat Ryan O’Day, and I was gratified when she replaced me. I knew Pat was a firm supporter of the arts and humanities. When Pat and Jack’s son Sean entered NMU, he enrolled in one of my writing classes, and he was in the class when a series of unfortunate incidents ended his life. Later, I found a character sketch he had written of his father, and I passed it on to Pat and Jack. Pat told me it meant a great deal to her and Jack to know how much their son cared for them. The aspect of Pat Ryan O’Day that invariably surprised me was her unfailing optimism and good spirits. Each month I would send her 2,600 words, and she would verify that it had showed up in readable fashion, but she always added a comment. She wanted to know how things were going, how my sons were doing (“I think about randall and terrence and their families so often”) and, later, how the grandchildren were. I always knew that Pat would add some short comment to her note that would cheer me up. If I was late, she would be understanding: “I certainly know about interruptions getting in the way.” If I had been sick, she would wish me well: “hope you are feeling close to 100 percent 🙂 take good care.” Sometimes it was just a very positive comment that reminded me how fortunate I was: “nice to have a sunny Sunday morning — in comparison to so much of the world, we indeed are blessed.” Pat Ryan O’Day herself was a light in the darkness. We shall all miss her.


St. Pat of Assisi

by Laura Farwell, UPAWS

Pat’s love of animals and concern for their welfare and happiness shone through in many ways, including her enthusiasm for each photo UPAWS submitted to Marquette Monthly. Pat loved all of them, recognized their specialness, and described the sweetness and cuteness of each photogenic animal in superlatives. Pat made sure that UPAWS’s events were consistently publicized; she deeply believed in UPAWS and celebrated its accomplishment of becoming a no-kill shelter. Everyone at UPAWS—including all the animals that passed through the shelter on their journeys to happy homes—will miss Pat deeply.


The Fire Within

by Jane Ryan
Courtesy of the Women’s Center

Courtesy of the Women’s Center

What an amazing lady. The list of her contributions to our community could take pages. But I will comment on one facet of her personality that I particularly admired. She was a spunky, energetic, independent gal. I observed that especially when she rented our cottage on Lake Superior for one winter. The cottage was served by a decent wood stove, but was not well insulated. Pat fed the wood stove, which meant hauling in significant quantities of logs. Since she was still working, I have to imagine that often she left the lakeshore in the dark and returned in the dark. She sure didn’t complain, and said she enjoyed being near the shore. Although I saw Pat while serving on committees and in other settings, I’ll always think of her stoking a fire in the cottage on Lake Superior. I miss her and will remember her as the fire behind all that Marquette Monthly brought to our community.


Unconditional Support

by Kaye Hiebel, MRHC

Unconditional support, that’s what Pat has meant for so many nonprofit organizations and community causes. We always knew Pat would help shine a light on our efforts and provide a forum for writers and visual artists to showcase their talents. Correspondence with her was usually followed up by “that sounds wonderful,” or “thank you for all the hard work you do,” some small-but-sincere thought to provide encouragement. Pat was a community treasure, valued and remembered by all who knew her.


Public Health Advocate

by Jill Fries, MCHD

I never physically met Pat. We talked about getting together for lunch from time to time, but it never happened. I spoke with Pat every month (sometimes several times in a given month) for the last eight years (at least). I was her primary contact at the Marquette County Health Department. We would, of course, discuss public health issues, and inevitably, we had other discussions as well. Pat was fiercely interested in public health and all the programs we had here and the impact on our community. Her willingness to support us and promote our activities was greatly appreciated.


Email Encouragement

by Larry Chabot, MM

From my first Marquette Monthly article in 1997 (which she accepted without knowing anything about me) until she passed in January, we only met twice. Our communications over the year came via hundreds of emails and phone calls. She was always supportive and encouraging, often adding her recollections to my research. Pat printed 106 of my historical articles, for which I was very grateful. Through her magazine, Pat gave space to a great variety of writers, including those in the unique age eight to eighteen group, and provided lists of events, museums, galleries, and celebrations, and the muchappreciated New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles. Our last exchange of calls and emails occurred in early January. I saved her final message as a reminder of this kind, gentle, intelligent, and fully engaged friend.


Thoughtful Composition

by Emily Lanctot, Donckers

Pat was a true gem. It was my absolute pleasure to be of her acquaintance. I began corresponding with Pat when I was still a student about ten years ago. Each month since, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw her name in my inbox. Her emails leaned toward the poetic. They were always thoughtfully composed. I will truly miss our monthly correspondence, but I will always cherish how she made me feel.


Take Good Care

by Laura Miller, Calumet Theatre Co.

I began communicating with Pat Ryan O’Day via email and phone chats in May 2009 when I become the executive director of the Calumet Theatre. Even though I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, I looked forward to her friendly and often humorous monthly reminders regarding “ad” time for Marquette Monthly. Our phone conversations and emails often took place at midnight to 1:00 a.m. as we connected with our late night shifts, both working on things we were passionate about—for her Marquette Monthly and for me the Calumet Theatre. Her encouragement was contagious and she did not hesitate to give her support or show appreciation. During our, what seemed like a never ending, 2014 winter season, her February email to me read “i have heard people question whether and when spring will come this year; but we really all know it will come with its trusted blue skies, green grass, daffodils crocuses and robins—our deadline will be late this week and early next (feb 14-17) i will look forward to hearing from you; i hope all is well in the world of calumet theatre and that you are staying well and warm enjoy the beauty of where we live; we are so privileged Then in March it was, “we are working on march mm—that month between february and spring :)” Once I emailed her—with my apologies— an ad copy with a peculiar formatting problem that created a weird yellow tint behind the words, her response was simply: ’tis a pretty yellow, anyway; i’ll bet it came with daylight savings time 🙂 it was very spring like. She often sent a special note or words of wisdom—it seemed, just at the right time —that gave me renewed energy. There were many times when I was so buried in grant writing, membership drives and performance contracts that MM ads would be sent to her at the last minute. During times like these, she emaied, please remember to breathe 🙂 i know how hard that can be and how much it helps when you do. Another time it was, Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for being one of the things for which we can give thanks. At Christmas it was, peace and blessings… no one i know deserves them more. She ended all her emails to me with, “take good care.” I will deeply miss her professionalism, our monthly chats, wit and humor. Pat, at this turn in your journey of life, you take good care, too.


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