Ryan Roberts, who was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, only lived for 21 months before he died on July 8. Before he passed, however, he inspired thousands of people to treasure the little moments in life by participating in a worldwide ice cream party.
Three Penn State professors, with the help of a few local business owners, recently organized a party that paid tribute to Ryan while honoring his familys military background.
Stan Aungst, a professor at Penn States College of Information Sciences and Technology, along with his fellow IST professor John Hill and Todd Bacastow, a professor at Penn States College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, took leading roles in organizing Operation Banana Splits for Baby Ryan, which was held Monday at the Fort Indiantown Gap Army post in Lebanon County at the request of Ryans parents, Erik and Diane Roberts, of South Fork.
Erik Roberts is a Pennsylvania Army National Guard staff sergeant assigned to Fort Indiantown Gap. About 175 soldiers were served banana splits, which were obtained partly through the assistance of Gary and J.R. Vratarich, co-owners of Tire Town in State College, and Ben Lerner, who runs the Dairy Queen restaurant in State College.
We broke the rules and had banana splits for lunch one day, said Cpt. Amanda Harrah.
About 33 gallons of ice cream were paid for by Tire Town, Aungst said, while Lerner obtained a refrigeration truck to transport the ice cream to Fort Indiantown Gap.
(The party) became a memorial service, Gary Vratarich said. Were just representatives of one community helping representatives of another.
The Vratarich brothers and Lerner have been nominated for a Commendation Medal, a midlevel U.S. military decoration presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.
Ryan died at Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he had been in treatment after a recent heart surgery. After the surgery, Ryans parents decided to stop supportive care and signed a Do Not Resuscitate order. When family and friends asked Erik and Diane Roberts what they could do to help, Diane said, Just go create a memory with your kids. Just go put a banana split down in front of your kids for dinner and watch their faces light up ... Theyre going to remember that forever.
To honor her wish, Melissa Neidhardt, a friend of Diane Roberts, created Ryans Banana Split Party on Facebook. Parents from all over the world soon began uploading pictures of their children eating ice cream in honor of Ryan. More than 76,000 people have participated in the event.
According to Harrah, soldiers at Fort Indiantown Gap been supporting the Roberts family throughout the entire ordeal. With only five days to plan the ice cream party, they turned to Aungst, an Army veteran who worked as a telecommunications and field cryptographer for information operations during the Vietnam War. Aungst recruited Hill and Bacastow, a retired Army officer and West Point graduate, to help coordinate the event.
Were recognizing the families of the service people who are serving in war today, Aungst said. When the military asks me to do something for the troops, Im going to do it.
Stephanie Koons writes this weekly column featuring news from the Centre Region. Contact her at 235- 3927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.