by Kate Berube
The early March air still holds a bite and with the exception of an occasional foghorn, the Brown’s River canal that separates Sayville from Bayport remains peacefully quiescent, a far cry from the vibrant summer hustle that will begin in a few short months. Here, tucked away on the riverbank, ideally situated for front row seating to stunning south shore sunsets, sits Ryan’s bench.
Constructed by Islip Town under the thoughtful leadership of Parks Director Tom Owens and Crew Leader Chris Mirabella, the bench, placed in memory of 2010 Sayville graduate Ryan Gunther who passed away suddenly this September, is just the sort of spot one would seek out in search of solace. It was here that Ryan’s parents Karen and Steve thought a little lending library, where you might find a book to linger over, would be a fitting addition and so reached out on a local community page to see if anyone knew where they could order one that might be added to the space.
The response was instantaneous and speaks to the heart of a small-town grieving one of their own. Reed Caputo, a local woodworker, generously offered to build the library, friends sent books they knew Ryan had enjoyed, and a cousin gifted the family with a personalized stamp to emboss them with. Two potted evergreens from Bayport Flower House were placed on either side of the bench, and a journal was added to the library as a way for visitors to share their memories. The Town recently returned to install a memorial plaque lovingly designed by Ryan’s younger sister Meghan. With every gesture and each new addition, the memorial bench became a tangible reflection of what an incredibly special man Ryan Gunther had been.
After graduation, Ryan attended Quinnipiac University for his undergraduate degree where he continued into their highly competitive graduate PA program as one of only 25 to gain his white coat. All through college, he returned home each summer to work for the Sayville Ferry Service where his favorite boat was the Fire Island Clipper. He went on to work as a Physician Assistant in Orthopedics and Spinal Surgery at Yale, Mount Sinai, and Lenox Hill Hospital, where he was known for his tireless work ethic and compassionate bedside manner.
Ryan is remembered most for his love of the water, his devotion to his family and friends, but above all things, his empathetic and giving nature that encouraged and nurtured countless lives. Generous donations enabled a scholarship to be created in Ryan’s name for a dedicated Sayville High School senior interested in studying medicine or science, that displays the qualities so missed by everyone Ryan’s life touched.