When James Ryan came to Gatlinburg more than 50 years ago he did more than build a business that satisfied the sweet tooth of tourists and locals alike.
The owner of The Donut Friar, who died Jan. 7 after a brief battle with cancer, also left a legacy with his contributions to the community, particularly the students at Pi Beta Phi Elementary School.
“When we grew up all the kids from school would come over before school and get donuts, and after school before they got on the bus,” daughter Kathleen Greely said.
He enjoyed teaching the youth some basic life lessons, including manners as they asked for the tempting treats that drew them to the store.
“When the kids came over to the store he always made them say please and thank you. He taught a lot of kids manners,” eldest son Rick Ryan said.
He expected those children who knew the rules about the basic courtesy to abide by it, too.
“If they didn’t say ‘may I please have’ when they learned (the rules) he would say ‘next,’ and he wouldn’t wait on them,” Greely said.
Greely said many teenagers had their first job at The Donut Friar, which was one of the first businesses to open in The Village. It is the second oldest continuously run food establishment operated by its original family in Sevier County.
Greely said he encouraged many teens to go to college, start bank accounts and other steps into adulthood.
“He encouraged everyone to be their best,” she said.
He also started a tradition where he gave apple tree saplings to students at Pi Beta Phi. Greely said he picked apple trees, because it was something the children could eat.
“He did that up until about 10 years ago,” Rick Ryan said.
To honor his memory the family is donating two apple trees to be planted at Mynatt Park, which is being renovated. They hope to have a memorial presentation when the city has a grand opening for the park.
Jim Ryan was a Korean War veteran, having served in the 24th Army Medical Battalion with the 24th Infantry Division. Using the GI Bill, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, working several years as a manager for a fertilizer company.
He passed a donut shop every day and, with visions of opening his own shop someday, approached the owner about working for him so he could learn.
“He worked for him on the weekends for free for quite a bit of time,” Rick Ryan said.
Rick Ryan said his father had learned while studying business that the three most profitable items in the food industry were pizza, pancakes and donuts. Not interested in pizza, and knowing the pancake market was already wrapped up in Gatlinburg by the Pancake Pantry, James Ryan looked to donuts.
In 1969, he and former wife Carolyn ‘Lynne’ Jessup Ryan took a leap of faith, heading to Gatlinburg with their five children to open The Donut Friar.
All the children worked at the shop eventually, including Peg, the youngest, who was 5 when they made the move to Gatlinburg.
“When I could count back change, oh yeah, I was working,” Peg Pilgrim mused.
She and Kathleen both recalled taking samples out to the sidewalks along the Parkway to lure people to The Village.
“There were only six stores when we opened in 1969. It was hard when we first started to get people to go back there,” Greely said.
In 2019, a 50th anniversary event was held for The Village. At that time the city of Gatlinburg presented a proclamation to Jim Ryan.
In addition to his business, Ryan enjoyed golf and was a patron of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home and other individuals and institutions. He donated time to
Habitat for Humanity for over 25 years.
When the family broke the news of James Ryan’s death on The Donut Friar’s Facebook page, fans both near and far expressed sadness and shared their stories of how The Donut Friar became a family tradition for them.
“I am so very happy that Jim Ryan decided to make Gatlinburg his home oh so many years ago. It is been a delight to know his family. He will be greatly missed. The family will be in my thoughts and prayers,” said Kathy Williams in one of hundreds of posts.
Many recalled the giant popsicle he provided for field day at the school. Weighing several hundred pounds, the ‘popsicle stick’ was 2x4s and pieces were broken off and served in cups to the students.
An avid traveler, he completed numerous bike trips across Europe with wife Shirley. Many of his trips were with daughter Kathleen.
In addition to Kathleen, Peg and Rick, other children include Kevin Ryan and Thomas Ryan.
SEVIERVILLE — On Jan 5. Sevierville Health & Rehabilitation administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine they received.
The first resident vaccinated was 99-year-old Mary Dowdy, who volunteered to be the first resident to get the immunization.
“I feel blessed to be able to receive this vaccine and hope it will allow things to return to normal,” she said.
The facility had 73% of the its residents vaccinated this first round and 83% of the staff received the vaccine. The facility staff lined up to receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
“I’m taking the vaccine to protect your loved ones. In this devastating time where we are the only person-to-person contact they have I want to ensure that they are kept safe,” said Jessica Carr, admissions/marketing.
GATLINBURG — Ole Smoky Distillery, one of the nation’s fastest growing spirits companies, made a $35,000 donation to Friends of the Smokies.
The East Tennessee non-profit organization assists the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most visited National Park.
In November, Ole Smoky’s four distilleries began selling their Limited Edition ‘Friends of the Smokies Blackberry Moonshine’ to support the preservation and protection of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A portion of those sales to date, make up Tuesday’s donation.
“We are committed to helping our neighbors in East Tennessee and are thrilled that so many Ole Smoky fans purchased our commemorative ‘Friends of the Smokies’ Blackberry Moonshine. We will continue to support this important effort throughout the year and look forward to welcoming back millions of Great Smoky Mountain visitors in 2021,” said Robert Hall, CEO of Ole Smoky Distillery.
“Partnering with Ole Smoky Distillery was a perfect match raising both awareness and money for the programs that we support in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Proceeds from the sale of commemorative jars of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine will support the ongoing historic preservation of the largest collection of Appalachian structures,” said Tim Chandler, Executive Director and CEO of Friends of the Smokies.
“We are so thankful for the generous support from Ole Smoky and the opportunity to share the mission of Friends of the Smokies with the millions of tourists that visited their distilleries. Thanks to everyone that purchased a jar or two and being a Friend of the Smokies, what a tasty way to raise money.”
The Limited Edition Commemorative Ole Smoky ‘Friends of the Smokies’ Blackberry Moonshine can still be purchased at Ole Smoky’s distilleries in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Nashville. Additional Ole Smoky Distillery events and activities to support the Friends of the Smokies will continue throughout 2021.
Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park assists the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness, and providing volunteers for needed projects. For more information, visit https://friendsofthesmokies.org/.
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Ole Smoky is the leading distiller of premium moonshine in the world and the first federally licensed distillery in the history of East Tennessee.
Founded in 2010, Ole Smoky’s roots can be traced to the Smoky Mountains’ earliest settlers, families who produced moonshine with enduring pride and Appalachian spirit. Today, Ole Smoky retails globally and offers more than 25 creative moonshine flavors and 17 inventive whiskey flavors.
Ole Smoky can be found at the company’s distilleries, online, in grocery and liquor stores nationwide, as well as in on-premise establishments, including some of the biggest music and sporting venues in the country. Ole Smoky’s four famed distilleries include three in East Tennessee — The Holler, The Barrelhouse and The Barn — and 6th & Peabody in Nashville.
SEVIERVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Health reported nine deaths from COVID-19 among Sevier County residents Tuesday, the largest total so far.
The total marked a 10% increase in the county’s total COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic started, and left it one short of reaching triple digits at 99.
The state also reported eight new hospitalizations among Sevier County residents Tuesday.
It is not clear how many Sevier County residents are hospitalized at a given time due to the virus; the state only releases a daily total of new hospitalizations and the total since the pandemic started, which is now 196.
The county had 1,123 active cases of the virus, after that total fell by 77 Tuesday.
There were 38 new positive tests returned Tuesday from 207 tests, for a positivity rate of 18%.
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PIGEON FORGE — The city is set to install cameras on its mass transit vehicles later this year, adding a layer of security on vehicles that ferry millions of people every year.
Pigeon Forge Mass Transit is the second largest rural mass transit system in the country, and has hauled more than 3 million passengers in a year.
It includes trolleys that carry people from Wears Valley to the Gatlinburg Visitors Center and to Dollywood, as well as trams that serve people going to the LeConte Center.
Now, the city has ordered cameras to provide some added security on the vehicles — including multiple fixed cameras for the trolleys, and body cameras for the tram conductors, who sit in the rear of the vehicles.
“It’s such a busy area and it’s good to have an added layer of protection,” said Lynn Wilhoit, director of the transit system.
They have ordered a set of five fixed cameras per trolley, along with the body cameras for tram conductors, he said.
The cameras on the trolleys will cover the interior as well as one that will be aimed out the front windshield, like a dash cam.
The idea is to provide more security for passengers and personnel on the vehicle
They’ve had accidents and incidents come up in the past where a recording could have helped, Wilhoit said.
“There have been situations down there where we didn’t know what happened,” he said. “If there was an accident or an incident we had to rely on statements.”
The cameras could also come in handy when there is a missing person who might have used the trolleys, he said, or if they come upon the scene of a wreck or other incident.
“There’s just a lot of great reasons for us to do this and I’m extremely appreciative to the city commission and (City Manager Earlene Teaster) for approving it, because it’s very important,” Wilhoit said.
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