You couldn’t tell Rita Ryan that Latin was a dead language.
During her 42-year career in the classroom, Ryan taught hundreds of Omaha Central High School students the language of Caesar, Nero and Cicero, imparting to them her love for the language and of Roman and Greek culture.
“Her class was never boring,” said Michelle Kiel, a former student of Ryan’s who later worked with her on the staff at Central. “She was always fun and engaging and had a way of connecting with her students.”
Ryan died Monday at age 73.
Mesmerized by the ancient world, the native of Emmetsburg, Iowa, studied Latin and Greek at Creighton University before she was hired in 1971 to fill one of three Latin teaching positions then offered at Central. She spent her entire Omaha Public Schools career teaching at the school.
In addition to her teaching, Ryan organized the school’s Latin club, an affiliate of the National Junior Classical League. Each year, the officers in the organization were inducted in a before-school ceremony in Ryan’s classroom that ended with them running the school’s halls in togas.
Her students also racked up dozens of trophies competing against other schools in certamens, contests testing students’ knowledge of Latin and Roman history.
She had a sign on the wall in her classroom: “Latin is not dead. Latin is immortal.”
Outside of school, Ryan organized 15 summer trips to Europe for students and their parents in which they toured ancient sites in Italy and Greece.
“She made us read the words on every statue and building,” Kiel recalled.
During her career, Ryan was awarded the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award, Central teacher of the year and the STAR Award, a state award for world language teachers. Upon her retirement in 2013, she was inducted into Central’s hall of fame.
Visitation will be held Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler, 7805 West Center Road. A memorial service will be Monday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, 6116 Dodge St. Both will be livestreamed at www.heafeyheafey.com.
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Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.