Lillian Marie Ryan, who owned and operated a furniture store for 70 years, died of an infection Feb. 19 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Abingdon resident was 95.
Born in Perth Amboy, N.J., she was the daughter of Benno Kiemer, a German-born sea captain, and his wife, Teresa Samao, a native of Brazil who after moving to the U.S. was a homemaker.
She attended New Jersey schools and had worked in a knitting mill as a young woman. She developed a talent for dancing and enjoyed walking. Family members said she thought little of going a mile on foot to Sunday services at her childhood church.
In 1939 she met her future husband, Richard Charles Ryan, at a military dance in New York. They later moved to Aberdeen, where he was a master sergeant at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He was a specialist in small arms and served in campaigns in North Africa and Europe during World War II.
In October 1948 she and her husband founded their business, Ryan’s Furniture, then housed in a former Aberdeen blacksmithing barn. The couple had earlier bought and rented war surplus trailers as well as the furniture to outfit them. When they saw a demand for furniture in the area — especially from military families — they enlarged their business.
“My father would be unloading furniture, and she’d be alongside him,” said her son, James Michael Ryan, who now runs the business with his son. “It was always a partnership.”
Mrs. Ryan ran its office — and greeted customers while her husband did buying and ran the warehouse. In 1966 they moved the showroom to Havre de Grace, where Mrs. Ryan worked until last month. The stored has a sign in the shape of a four-leaf clover whose petals spell R-Y-A-N.
“This business has been her baby for 70 years," said her son. “She had the personality to greet her customers. She was down to earth and liked people. They would come in and ask if she remembered them — remembered them after they bought a bedroom set 50 years ago. It was amazing.”
He said they cultivated customers from throughout Harford and Cecil counties and worked with members of the military.
“She had a friendly nature about her,” said her oldest granddaughter, Raquel Petroski of Cockeysville. “She and her husband loved being with people, and that ability sustained the business. It was her life, being at the front desk. greeting people and answering the phone.”
Her grandson, Michael Ryan, said, “For her, it was all about being dedicated to the family business, being there three or four days a week. We’ve had customers since the 1960s who always asked for Mrs. Ryan.”
She continued to enjoy dancing.
“After a long day at work, she and my father thought nothing of getting in a car and driving to Baltimore for a dance,” said her son.
Her son said his parents were avid hunters and went on numerous fishing trips, and had a place on Otter Point on the Bush River. His mother once shot a goose, but had second thoughts about the practice after she learned that geese mate for life.
In 1972 she served as the first lady of the Bush River Yacht Club after her husband was named its commodore. They owned a succession of watercraft, and she navigated as they sailed their powerboat through the Inland Waterway from Florida to Maryland.
She was also active in raising funds to aid multiple sclerosis research.
Mrs. Ryan enthusiastically attended IronBirds games at Ripken Stadium. She and her husband were friends of the Ripken family and supplied them with furniture.
She was an accomplished cook and arrived at family gatherings with a bowl of her homemade German potato salad and deviled eggs. She also presided at family crab feasts.
She had been active at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the McComas Funeral Home, 1317 Cokesbury Road in Abingdon.
In addition to her son and grandchildren, Mrs. Ryan is survived by two other grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A son, Thomas B. Ryan, died in 2006. Her husband of more than 59 years died in 1999.