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FACEs of the Week: John and Marilyn Ryan, PTA Council of Baltimore County

As part of BCPS’ commitment to ongoing Family And Community Engagement, the "FACE of the Week" is a new, regular feature of the BCPS website that introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS special – our volunteers and PTA members.


For folks like Kathleen Wiles, it seems as if John and Marilyn Ryan have always been part of Carney Elementary School.  

The Ryans were active in the school’s PTA when Wiles, now the school’s library/media specialist, was a student at Carney. Today, the Ryans are still there; Marilyn volunteers twice weekly to help Wiles organize the school’s well-used library.

Wiles says of Marilyn and John, “They just see what they can do, and they go at it. They don’t have any agenda other than seeing that Carney is a great place to live and raise your kids.

“They just don’t make them like that anymore.”

It probably seems like the Ryans have always been there to a lot of people. Together, they have served BCPS and its schools for nearly 60 years; between the two, they have dedicated more than a century’s worth of PTA leadership and volunteering to Parkville-area schools and the school system.

Their longevity comes as an anomaly. While many volunteers and PTA officers end their service when children move on to higher grades or graduate, the Ryans remained fixtures in their community schools and BCPS even after their youngest of four children graduated from Parkville High School in 1972.

“I don’t know if quitting ever even came up,” John says.

Today, they are familiar faces at PTA Council meetings, at area schools, at concerts and recognition ceremonies, and at bimonthly meetings of the Board of Education of Baltimore County.

“Their dedication to children and the PTA is unmatched,” says Emory Young, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County. “They are the perfect pair and an excellent team.  . . . They are a joy to talk to about any topic, and it is a pleasure listening to some of their experiences over the years.” 

Establishing their ‘second family’

Both native Pennsylvanians, the Ryans landed in Parkville in 1958 after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, where they met. He had taken a job working on airplanes, ships, and submarines for Martin Marietta and the U.S. Navy. She was teaching, and they both were exploring their new home and raising their four children – Pat, Cindy, Rich, and Laurie – all of whom would graduate from Parkville High. (Two, Cindy and Laurie, are now educators in BCPS schools.)

“When we came to Baltimore, we didn’t know a soul. Everything was centered on the kids,” Marilyn said. She and her husband began to volunteer for a variety of community organizations, figuring that involvement would be a good way to meet their new neighbors and enrich their growing family.

They agree that it was a stubborn, policy-straitjacketed school counselor at then-Parkville Junior High School who ignited their activist spark. “He swore up one side and down another that girls shouldn’t be taking Algebra II,” says Marilyn, still indignant at the thought. Marilyn, herself a college mathematics and engineering major, notes that her daughter ultimately did take Algebra II. 

That difference of opinion launched the duo on a lifetime of advocacy and volunteerism in the public schools. PTA memberships led to PTA leadership positions at Carney Elementary, Parkville Junior High, and Parkville High School. In the 1970s and 1980s, John took on state PTA leadership positions, while Marilyn continued working as a substitute teacher and a volunteer at schools and with a variety of civic and educational organizations.    

Marilyn gave up on substitute teaching about 10 years ago, but her volunteer efforts at Carney and elsewhere have continued uninterrupted for 43 years.

“It’s almost like a second family for us now at Carney,” Marilyn says.

Looking back, looking ahead

Today, the couple keeps busy in leadership positions with the county PTA Council and keeping an eye on state and national PTA matters. “Their knowledge and experience make them not only valuable (Council) members, but an important resource to the local PTA units in Baltimore County,” says Young. 

 When the Ryans are asked to look back, they see a rapidly changing school system and one vastly different from the early 1960s. “PTAs are different today, too,” Marilyn says. “When we started out, there were not so many working mothers as there are today. For women, the PTA was their social outlet. It’s really changed over the years.”

Despite what Young calls their “humble and low-key” style, the Ryans say they know they have made a difference. “Yes, it’s been rewarding,” says John. “We’ve been recognized over the years for many of the things we’ve helped with, and that’s been nice.

“Hopefully,” he adds, “we’ll be remembered for doing some good.”

To learn more about the PTA of Baltimore County, visit   

For more photos, visit the BCPS Flickr site at   

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, specialist, BCPS Family and Community Engagement.

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