Agnes Butchkosky was raised in Jeddo, PA, daughter of a hard rock miner who’d emigrated from Austria as a teenager. Butchie’s mother managed to care for the family of seven in spite of labor strikes. Butchie’s father brought home empty wooden charge boxes for the children to play with. “I turned mine into a desk for my nurse’s station,” she recalled, and following that passion, she graduated from nursing school in 1944.
She was determined to join the Army Nurse Corps, even though she was too short. She piled her hair on top of her head with plenty of hairpins. It made her just tall enough. “Our generation was willing to step up and it was what I wanted to do,” she said.
Butchie was assigned to the hospital ship, Republic to serve the injured soldiers anticipated in the planned invasion of Japan. The ship broke down near the Panama Canal and waited a month for parts. Ben Ryan, a dashing Army Lieutenant flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings on sub patrol, was stationed at Howard Air Force Base nearby. He’d survived bailing out of his P-38, possibly something they talked about during that blind date that changed their lives forever.
After the War, Butchie was stationed at the Army Hospital in Aurora, CO to treat tuberculosis patients. Ryans were married in a Denver hospital chapel on June 8, 1946.
Ben was honorably discharged and roughnecked on an oil well near Livingston, MT.
Stanford was their home for the next three years where Ben earned his petroleum engineering degree while Butchie worked in the Palo Alto Hospital.
Ben’s career with Richfield Oil began in September 1949, and sent the couple near Bakersfield, then to Wyoming, and Caracas, Venezuela where they left amidst the chaos of a military coup. They transferred to Los Angeles, then to Alaska in 1961. Butchie was cooking moose stew for guests when the 1964 earthquake hit. The whole house pitched and swayed, and they hurried to high ground in the car to avoid a possible tsunami wave.
Ben was responsible for Alaska oil exploration. When his field crew reported promising oil sands near Prudhoe Bay, Ben agreed that Richfield should invest in it, and he and his crew were credited with the discovery of the North Slope oil field.
After retiring, they bought a quarter section of forest near West Glacier, Montana in 1966. They built an A-frame home, and Ben designed and built a sawmill from which he sawed lumber to build a shop, outbuildings, and hangar where he built several aircraft.
Their land could accommodate a 2,500-foot turf runway, and Ben cleared trees, and filled low spots with a one-and-a-half-yard front loader to create meadow-like Ryan Field, at the base of Strawberry Mountain.
In 2005, Ryans began incrementally donating their property to the Recreational Aviation Foundation so the airfield would remain available for public use in perpetuity.
Ben and Butchie moved to the Montana Veteran’s Home in Columbia Falls, in 2012, and Ben passed away in July of 2017.
A graveside services including military honors for Agnes “Butchie” Ryan will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 22, 2022 at Montana Veterans Home Cemetery, Talbot Road, Columbia Falls, MT 59912. To send online condolences, please visit www.columbiamortuary.com.
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