Reporter: Ellie Mahan
May 12, 2022
Bill and Gwen Ryan, Whitney residents, celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary Monday, May 2. Bill and Gwen were married May 2, 1948, at the First Baptist Church in Estancia, New Mexico. The couple has five children, 11 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
Bill served in the Navy for four years before meeting Gwen in her hometown in New Mexico, which was about the size of Peoria. Gwen said for her first date, Bill picked her up and drove her around town, drank a Coke with her, and then dropped her off at her home.
Bill proposed to her on Easter Sunday in the mountains of New Mexico. Gwen was 19 when they got married. Because Bill was under the age of 21, he had to bring his mother with him to approve the marriage license.
Bill became a Southern Baptist preacher in 1955 and was later a director of missions and an evangelist. Bill and his wife served in the ministry for 42 years throughout the United States. Gwen said, “We were committed to the Lord together. It wasn’t his job or my job. It was our job.” The couple moved 37 times throughout their marriage, and Gwen said out of all the places she has lived, Whitney has been her favorite.
The Ryans moved to Whitney in 1967 when Bill became the pastor at First Baptist Church Whitney. Gwen believes that one of the best aspects of Whitney was her church family. Bill helped raise the funds to build the auditorium that the church has today.
Gwen said her husband was wonderful at speaking on Sunday mornings and was even better at community outreach. She considers Bill a people person and a leader. She said, “If you were in trouble, he would almost sense it, and if you were causing trouble, he sure sensed it, and he would tend to it.”
She often saw him sharing his faith in downtown Whitney. Gwen said, “If somebody needed the Lord, he was going to talk to them. It didn’t matter if they were dressed up.”
After all these years, Gwen still sees those same leadership qualities in her husband. She said, “He still ministers to these people here [At Town Hall Estates in Whitney]. If they ask him to pray or quote a scripture, he does it.”
Almost all of the Ryans’ children graduated from Whitney High School. All of their children were involved in sports, and Bill and Gwen made it a point to go to as many of their sporting events as they could. If one parent couldn’t make it to a game, the other parent was always there to support them.
When asked what advice Gwen had for new parents, she said, “Follow the instructions the Bible gives you for raising kids.”
One unspoken goal that Bill and Gwen had in their marriage was to never show anger toward each other in front of their children. Gwen said, “We didn’t have disagreements very much, but when we did, we didn’t do it in front of our kids.”
Gwen said her secret to a long-lasting marriage is to be happy serving the Lord with her husband. She later said, “The main thing is that you love each other.” Bill agreed and said, “We have a good time together, and she’s been good for me.”
Gwen expressed her gratitude to the town of Whitney and said that ending up here has been a blessing for her whole family.