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Beloved volunteer earns his cape: Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool Remembers Ken Ryan

Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool director Kristen Peterson (far left) and her students (clockwise from her left) Ariana Pajari, Aria Ries, Aasta Richards, Ingrid Richards, Elsie Anderson, Addison Jurchenko and Laney Steidl decorate a cape Tuesday for volunteer Ken Ryan. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 4
Students at Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool in Alexandria, including (from left) Mae, Weston and Reid Denne, decorate butterflies for Ken Ryan, a volunteer who died Saturday, July 28. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 2 / 4
Merida Kahlert and Brody Martinson listen as volunteer Ken Ryan reads them a book in this undated photo. Ryan, who was a faithful volunteer for Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool, died in a plane crash July 28. (Contributed) 3 / 4
The staff and students at Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool made a cape in memory of Ken Ryan. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 4 / 4

As word of Ken Ryan's death spread throughout the community, those whose lives he touched were saddened and grief stricken.

Ryan, 64, of Alexandria, died in a plane crash Saturday, July 28, west of Alexandria near Lake Latoka.

When Kristen Peterson heard the news, she knew there was something she needed to do. Peterson, the director of Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool in Alexandria, sent out a letter to families who currently have or have had children attend the preschool letting them know about the cape she would be making for Ryan for her preschool kids to sign.

Ryan was a "beloved volunteer" who had spent at least one day a week the past two years with the kids at Butterfly Hill, Peterson said.

"He would spend hours playing, coloring, chatting, answering questions, reading, running and engaging with the kids," she said.

Peterson remembers that Ryan initially believed he was coming only to read books. However, that quickly turned into playdough molding, wearing costumes, sweeping up after a huge glitter creation was made, mud pie baking and making snow angels, just to name a few.

"The children looked up to him with a fierceness that I found so endearing, but I was also silently envious of the relationships he had with many of our preschool children," Peterson said. "Many of the kids connected with Ken and they would love when it was 'Ken Day.' "

Not too long ago, she received a text message from Ryan thanking her for allowing him the opportunity to play and to be a kid again.

In an email to the newspaper, Peterson wrote, "He told me on more than one occasion, after I thanked him over and over again for all of his help and commitment to the children, that he took far more away from the time with the children than anything. He loved spending time with us. The children loved spending time with him.

"He showed up with a smile, patched up owies, cleaned toilets, answered questions about life, death, poisonous plants, animal scat, favorite colors, favorite letters, and listened to the children with patience and love."

The cape

Peterson explained that at the end of each year, Butterfly Hill has a tradition that each child who is moving on to kindergarten gets a cape. There is a special cape ceremony where they play the "Cape Song," by Guy Clark. During the ceremony, a flour sack cape is given to the child.

"We thought it would be fitting to award Ken his own cape now that he is moving on from his earthly life," Peterson said.

On Tuesday, July 31, she invited current and former families of the preschool to stop into the preschool and sign the cape for Ken, which was decorated with a large letter "K." In addition, there were paper cut-out butterflies for the children to decorate and sign that Peterson will use in an arrangement to give to Ryan's family.

"Ken made such a lasting impression on the hearts of the children and in the hearts of the teachers, as well. We will miss him dearly," she said.

Lyrics to the Cape Song

Eight years old with a floursack cape

Tied all around his neck

He climbed up on the garage

Figurin' what the heck

He screwed his courage up so tight

The whole thing came unwound

He got a runnin' start and bless his heart

He headed for the ground

He's one of those who knows that life

Is just a leap of faith

Spread your arms and hold your breath

Always trust your cape

All grown up with a floursack cape

Tied around his dreams

He was full of spit and vinegar

He was bustin' at the seams

He licked his finger and he checked the wind

It was gonna be do or die

He wasn't scared of nothin' boys

And he was pretty sure he could fly

He's one of those who knows that life

Is just a leap of faith

Spread your arms and hold your breath

Always trust your cape

Old and grey with a floursack cape

Tied all around his head

He's still jumpin' off the garage

Will be till he's dead

All these years the people said

He's actin' like a kid

He did not know he could not fly

So he did

He's one of those who knows that life

Is just a leap of faith

Spread your arms and hold your breath

Always trust your cape

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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