Wayne County Wanderings: Marty Ryan is struggling with health and financial issues
I have known Marty Ryan for more than three decades and he's the first to admit he's no saint.
We first met when I was in high school and looking for a particular style of football cleats. From the moment I walked into his store back in 1982, Marty made me feel right at home.
I loved his quick wit, his booming voice and that self-deprecating sense of humor. When he wasn't needling me about my hapless Mets or silly Seahawks, Marty was asking about my family … always eager to know how everyone was doing.
Whenever I close my eyes and think of Marty, the image that arises is always the same: Marty kneeling behind his little desk (I still don't know why he didn't use a chair!). There's a rumpled NY Giants hat perched on his head and a steaming cup of coffee clutched in his hand.
He's smiling at me from behind those thick glasses, ready to skewer me with a good-natured insult or to compliment one of my stories … and you never knew which to expect on any given day.
Good & Bad
Marty's had good times and bad times over the course of his 71 years on this planet.
He's done some things he is proud of and some things he'd rather forget … as have we all.
There is one thing I can say without fear of contradiction, though: Marty has a good heart and always steps up when he encounters someone in need.
For example … and he's probably going to smack me for writing this …
Marty recently stopped in at the Subway in Waymart for a quick bite to eat.
While waiting for his order, he noticed an older gentleman sitting alone at a table. The man was nursing a coffee and seemed to be down on his luck a little bit.
Without giving a thought to his own circumstances (which we'll get to in a bit), Marty dug deep and bought the man a sandwich.
“He looked like he could use it,” Marty said with a smile and a shrug. “And he was very grateful. He really appreciated it and that made me feel good.”
This little anecdote is a perfect example of the type of man Marty Ryan is. Even though he has more than enough troubles of his own, Marty's conscience just won't let him walk away from someone in need.
Marty is the son of Lois and the late Harry Ryan.
He grew up in Carbondale and attended St. Rose High School. After graduating in 1965, Marty enlisted in the Army. He served three years, of which 14 months were spent overseas in Korea.
Upon his return, Marty embarked on a career which has lasted until today.
He started at Shoe Fair, but also worked at Murray Company, Sullum's Triangle Shoes and even K-Mart. Most of us remember him from his days with Athletes World, Sneaker World and, finally, Marty's.
He spent the vast majority of that time in Honesdale, but also set up shop in Steene for awhile. Fortunately, Marty returned to Main Street two years ago … right back where he belongs.
Despite his new digs and a tireless work ethic, Marty has really been struggling lately … healthwise and financially.
He's battled a nasty disease called lymphedema for many years now, a painful condition that causes massive swelling in the legs due to the body's inability to drain fluid. It's fairly rare as just 200,000 cases are reported in the United States each year.
Over the course of the past 11 years, Marty has undergone hundreds of treatments, skin grafts and even endured several long hospitalizations.
“It's not a lot of fun,” he admitted. “But, I try not to let it get me down. I'm not as mobile as I used to be, but I make the best of it.”
Marty works more than 40 hours per week, but he's losing sleep over his financial situation. Sales are down and his bills are accumulating at an alarming rate.
His beloved Mom is now 97-years-old and confined to a nursing home. No matter how bad he feels on a given day, Marty still makes the trek to see her at least once a week.
However, even that small gesture of love was endangered for a time when he couldn't afford to have his faithful old pick-up serviced and inspected.
So what did he do? Rather than disappoint his Mom, Marty paid for a taxi to make the trip … an expensive proposition considering his situation.
On top of that, Marty has been forced to go on food stamps in an effort to keep paying for his mom's spot in the nursing home.
It's a tragic turn of events that has made Honesdaleans sit up and take notice.
Jack & Harry
Marty's troubles were brought to my attention by the dynamic duo of former Honesdale Mayor Jack Bishop and Harry Feldman.
Both are veterans and each is on a mission to help out their old friend.
Jack and Marty's friendship stretches back a very long time. They both served in the military during the Viet Nam Era and became fast friends upon returning to the states.
While the circumstances of their service are vastly different, they're forever bound by a deep-seated love of their country.
“Marty gets embarrassed sometimes when we start talking about those days,” Jack said. “But, I keep telling him that's nonsense. We have an old saying in the military: 'They also serve who stand watch.'”
That's an adaptation of a line from the poet John Milton. Marty may not have seen combat action, but he went where the Army sent him and served honorably.
So, at Jack's urging, local veterans groups took up a collection to help Marty get through this rough stretch.
“I'll tell you the kind of man Marty is,” Jack said.
“I was here when a young couple came into the store. The husband had been out of work, but he'd just been hired in construction. He needed a new pair of boots for his first day.
“When they saw the prices, though, the wife confided that they didn't have the money.”
Marty's response? He wrapped up the boots, congratulated the man on his new job and said: “Just pay me when you can.”
Harry has also witnessed Marty's innate goodness firsthand. They first got to know one another when Marty was kind enough to let the Harry's local Marine group store some of their gear at the store.
Over a period of many years, the two also became fast friends. Harry was quick to react when told of Marty's recent struggles.
“Marty is a very generous man and he treats people so well,” he said. “That made an impression on me from the beginning. Marty always has a kind word for you. He has a talent for drawing you out and making you feel comfortable. When you walk out of that store, you feel good about yourself.”
“I really don't think some people in this town know what a treasure he is.”
Marty's Sneaker World is located on Main Street in Honesdale right next to Jennings Jewelry. The store is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
So stop on in and pay Marty a visit! Maybe pick up a new pair of sneakers or hunting boots or a jacket or even just a pair of socks.
If you're not currently in the market for any of those items, please consider making a small donation to this worthy cause. No amount is too small and will be greatly appreciated.
An account has been set up for Marty at the Dime Bank. If you'd like to help, just make out a check to the “Martin H. Ryan Benefit Fund,” care of The Dime Bank P.O. Box 509, Honesdale, PA, 184341.
“It's hard for me to ask for help,” Marty admitted.
“I know everybody has problems. I'm nobody special and I'm definitely not looking for a handout. I just want to be able to pay my bills and sleep at night.”
Ah, but that's where you're wrong Marty! You are special and there are many of us who want to help you the way you've always helped others.