For Harmony couple, John and Jacque Ryan, it was the arts that brought them together at a young age, but it was their faith which gave them strength to overcome adversity.
“We kind of fell in love in art class. We were very good friends; we had this friendship that started even the year before that. We had a good time in there,” Jacque shared. “And his sense of humor, he really had me laughing in art class. I’ve always enjoyed a sense of humor, so he was a shoe in that way, too.”
The couple married on December 4, 1971, and began their family together, which now includes their three children Matthew Ryan, Maria Spearbecker and Mark Ryan, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“It still boggles the mind,” Jacque said. “I think if you have a family the time flies by even more.”
When asked to describe her parents, Spearbecker said, “They are best friends and have been since the day they met. When my children get old enough to date I would tell them, ‘Watch Grandma and Grandpa. That’s the kind of relationship you want.’”
Through their 51 years of marriage the couple have found strength in their faith, as well as their family.
“Everyone has ups and downs, but when our priorities were straight it just seemed to flow a little better,” Jacque explained. “We put God first and it is so much better when you do that.”
According to Spearbecker, their faith is a virtue they passed on to their children by instilling love between themselves and others.
“You can talk all you want, but they are going to watch. And we taught them that putting God first can carry you through your life and help with the struggles,” Jacque said.
In October 2022, the family’s faith and love would be tested as a bout with COVID turned into a nightmare for the couple.
While battling the illness, Jacque had begun to drink water as she tried to stay hydrated. Unfortunately, the high quantity of water had depleted her body of sodium, sending it into a tailspin.
“I remember telling John that I needed an ambulance and then not much more for the next three days. I was just in rough shape,” Jacque shared. Originally taken to Cresco by ambulance, Jacque was quickly transferred to Gundersen Hospital in La Crosse.
Her rapid deterioration came as a shock to John, who explained, “She went from not feeling good to critical in an hour.”
After arriving at the hospital Jacque suffered a seizure which aggravated an undiagnosed hip fracture, causing it to break. Because of this she had to recover not only from COVID, but also from hip surgery.
Spearbecker, who works at Gundersen as a physical therapist assistant, was able to be in the hospital with her mother, while her brothers took care of John as he recovered from COVID.
“We did a lot of praying and put a lot of trust in God,” John said of that time.
“I could feel those prayers, too,” Jacque expressed. “We have so many friends that are like family to us. Family is the dynamic that starts everything, but we have such close friends that were praying for me and praying for him. It was hard for him, because he had no control and couldn’t help or encourage me at all. I was more worried about him. I had a job to do in the hospital. I had to recover and do my therapy, so I would concentrate on that more but I would worry about him.”
For Jacque, through it all there was a strong belief that she had ended up in the right place at the right time, having what she calls “God winks” that proved to her she was where she was meant to be.
“God really carried me through that whole hospital experience,” assured Jacque. “It was just a comfort because I was in God’s care. And I was so impressed with the care I got in Gundersen, it was just phenomenal they are so attentive and so quick to take care of you. I met so many wonderful people.”
It was not just God that helped them overcome, it was also family. The couple expressed their deep gratitude for their children and the care they gave each of them during their time of need.
“It was so wonderful and we are just so grateful,” Jacque recalled. “Such love poured out of them and sensitivity. You raise your kids and you hope they will be loving and giving people, but when you see it in action like that its amazing.”
“The caring they had for us, it’s a side I’d never seen of them. They were always great, but it was how they stepped up,” John agreed.
Stepping up when their parents needed them most was easy, according to Maria, when the couple had done the same for their children as they were growing up.
“Looking back, what makes me most proud is how my brothers and I came together and communicated beautifully,” Maria said of the experience.
The family also felt the loving embrace from their community of neighbors and friends.
Maria shared how neighbors had supplied their dad with food and Powerade and Gatorade for days on end. A meal train was started, which quickly filled up with over three weeks of meals. Furthermore the family was gifted plants, flowers and two prayer quilts.
“The entire community of Harmony is amazing,” Spearbecker said. “It was easy to stay with mom in the hospital and focus on her when I knew that dad was taken care of by my friends, family and the community.”
After 10 days, Jacque was released but the struggles weren’t over as she continued down the road of recovery.
“It was hard when she got home because she was in a lot of pain and she needed a lot of help,” John explained. “I felt honored to be able to do that for her, because I understood her pain and wished I could have taken it from her. She never show negativity about anything. And when she finally began to show progress, it made her so happy.”
For her part Jacque has been able to find the joy in the recovery process.
“It made me realize I can slow down and I don’t have to do everything right away.”
Now, just months after the ordeal began the family has a new perspective on life, love and family.
“I learned how much I missed her,” John expressed. “It showed me that life can be snatched away in an instant. And not to take so much for granted and to try to enjoy everyday. You learn to appreciate so many things that you took for granted.”
Jacque agreed, saying, “We’ve always appreciated each other, but when stuff like this happens it really does make you appreciate more. I had a monumental birthday this year and I use to complain, not wanting people to know how old I was. But I’ve noticed since all of this happened I’m proud to be my age and it is a privilege to be my age. It really changed my whole perspective on that, because I’m so grateful that we are both here.”
One can be sure the Ryans will carry this new outlook with them throughout the years, along with their faith and love of family.