The kindness of people volunteering to help the nonprofit she recently started for her late son Ryan deeply touches Beth Hanzes.
“We’ve had huge support from our friends, Ryan’s friends,’’ said Beth, of South Union Township, talking about the success of the first fundraiser, held recently at the Uniontown Country Club.
The Fashion Fiesta provided funding for Ryan’s Tribute, a nontraditional memorial and bereavement foundation Beth established this year and is supported by her husband, Greg, and son, Aaron.
The website (www.ryanstribute.org) explains the nonprofit wants to give comfort to families who have lost a loved one, especially a child, as well as raise awareness on grieving and provide ideas for nontraditional memorial services and remembrances.
“We’re all touched by death,’’ said Beth. “We’re all going to die. So let’s try to make the best of it and change the concept of it being so negative even though it hurts so bad.’’
A 2011 graduate of Laurel Highlands High School who was working at One Stop Auto in Uniontown while attending California University, Ryan died in 2017 as a result of an automobile accident at Point Lookout on Summit Mountain in South Union Township. He was 24.
“He was one to help people and I really didn’t realize how much he helped until after when I heard the stories,’’ said Beth, noting, “To me, that wasn’t anything abnormal. That’s what we do. We help people. We take care of people.’’
Now, the Hanzes family are helping others once again.
The idea for the nonprofit came from the reaction of people touched by the way the Hanzes family handled funeral arrangements, such as forgoing a traditional service for a celebration of Ryan’s life.
Instead of a typical urn for Ryan’s cremation, his friend Mason Zieglar custom made one using valve pan covers from a race car. Ryan was a member of the Mason Ziegler Racing Team. The engraved urn includes Ryan’s photograph and winning flags from Eldora, his favorite racetrack.
Ryan liked to have people over so the Hanzes put up tents and invited everyone to their house after the service. Mason drove Ryan home from the church in a race car, which someone filmed and had more than 50,000 views on Facebook.
“I knew I did something right for him, exactly how he would want it to be. It was different from what everybody else does,’’ said Beth.
Encouraged by friends, Beth wanted to share ideas, such as using Ryan’s t-shirts for a remembrance quilt.
“I think a lot of people are losing children – more than they ever did, especially with drugs. If I can help these people in any way that you can customize how you celebrate your child’s life, your loved one’s life, your pet’s life. I think it’s going to be great,’’ said Beth.
Beth said the nonprofit will donate bags called Ryan’s Hugs to Uniontown Hospital for people who lose children. They will contain comfort items, including a hand-print kit, as well as information on grieving and organ donation.
Ryan’s Tribute plans to sponsor children to attend a camp for grieving youths. The charity also raised funds to help provide training for a service dog for a young woman who lives in the mountains.
“I think we’re starting here in this small community, but I think it’s going to go a lot larger,’’said Beth, who believes Ryan would be proud of the work being done in his name. “He’d be smiling down at all of us.”
Donations can be sent to Ryan’s Tribute at 118 Southwood, Uniontown, PA 15401.