We received some shocking news to start the week when we found out that our friend and former colleague, Ryan Leister, died this past weekend. Ryan's car went off the road early Sunday morning when he was on his way home from the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival. Preliminary reports have indicated that a heart condition, not the car accident which apparently was not traumatic, was the cause of death. Ryan leaves behind parents, two brothers, three nephews and a niece that are undoubtedly in need of our compassion and support right now.

Ryan Leister, Our Friend and ColleagueRyan worked for Community Growth Institute from early 2006 until just last summer. Professionally, he was wonderful to work with. Not only was he intelligent, he was a great team player who took satisfaction in helping people. He had a number of enduring ideas for making our organization better and was respected by those in the many communities he worked with. It was very unfortunate to have to part ways last summer amid the economic upheaval that marks our country's current state of affairs.

Ryan was working here when my second daughter, Stella, was born. Among all my colleagues, he was particularly generous with his joy and support for my family. I would bring my daughters into the office on Fridays and they were always drawn to Ryan. He had a great way of exuding warmth of spirit and that soft vulnerability that makes children feel comfortable. One of my enduring images is of him holding baby Stella and, in contrast to some of the other childless guys I know, how natural he seemed with her. We have not told the kids about Ryan's passing, but the oldest, Chloe, who also really liked Ryan, would be very sad to know they will not see him again. She still asks about "Ryan, the one with no hair".

Ryan spoke of his family often, and in doing so that same tendernous was revealed. Once when recounting his weekend he told me about staying with his brother's family. He told me how one of the younger ones wanted to sleep snuggling with Uncle Ryan. I know that Ryan, who already suffered with insomnia to a degree, thought that sleepless night with his nephew tossing and kicking him was a special moment. It is sad to think about the loss that his family now feels.

Once I was fortunate enough to meet Ryan's mother while Ryan and I were working on a project in Moorhead. The three of us shared lunch together and it was evident in our conversation that she was very proud of her son. It was also obvious that the feeling was reciprocal - Ryan had a deep love and admiration for her that was revealed in the way he spoke to her, spoke of her and the comfort of the entire situation. All of his family were very important to him, especially his two brothers that he admired so much.

Those of us who spent time with Ryan enjoyed the company of a gregarious guy that loved life. Our colleague, Megan Schlegel, saw him Saturday night and said he was enjoying himself immensely. It was this spirit, which enveloped a kind and gentle soul, that made him endearing to friends and family.

Everyone at Community Growth Institute that knew him is devastated by his passing. We will always remember him with great affection.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And to Ryan, may he rest in peace.