Business education teacher Don Ryan '66 takes office in his hometown of Hempstead.

As he campaigned to be the next mayor of the Village of Hempstead, New York, Don Ryan ’66 liked to tell constituents, “I’m Hempstead-born and Hempstead-bred and when I die, I’ll be Hempstead-dead.” It became a shorthand for his values and life story. In March 2017, the celebrated volunteer basketball coach and former teacher captured 52 percent of the vote to defeat three-term incumbent Wayne Hall.

Ryan ran on a platform to promote reasonable development in Hempstead—a diverse village just to the south of Garden City. A longtime village trustee, he was frustrated by a downtown real estate development project that he described as a “bait and switch.”

He and his fellow trustees, along with the mayor, had voted for a mixed-use—residential and commercial—development project on the northern part of Main Street. But, he said, the first site plan was for an apartment complex in a different location. Ryan felt deceived and disappointed, and he vigorously opposed the tax breaks that the developer requested.

In an interview shortly after his victory, Ryan said of the development, “I’d like it to be less oriented towards apartment complexes and more towards commercial and light industry. So we’re not talking about jobs; we’ll be talking about careers.”

His concern about employment isn’t new. A business education teacher at Hempstead High School for 33 years, Ryan devoted his afternoons to coordinating the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a job placement program. “I’m very proud that 7,000 students received their first jobs through this program, and there’s nowhere I can go in the Village of Hempstead that someone doesn’t stop me and say to me that I got them their first job,” Ryan said in a campaign video.

Ryan knows hard work personally too. As a student at Adelphi University, he worked 60 hours a week in addition to taking a full class load. He also discovered both his vocation and his avocation.

He was inspired to teach business law by two people. One was a Hempstead High School teacher. The other was Adelphi Professor Patrick Mulene, whom Ryan described as “fabulous, just fabulous.”

While at Adelphi, Ryan began volunteering at the Salvation Army in Hempstead as a youth basketball coach. Today, he is still coaching (although he is now doing it through his own nonprofit  organization, the Hempstead Dons), and he counts among his former players American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, General Manager of the New York Knicks Steve Mills, Head Coach of the Denver Nuggets Mike Malone and Basketball Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Ryan has summed up his coaching philosophy: “I coach life, not just basketball.”

Asked if there is advice that he gave to young people that he has taken to heart now that he is mayor of his hometown, Ryan said, “Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”

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Todd Wilson
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