Others gather at Banks church to grapple with loss of young music lover

Ryan StradlingIn honor of fallen comrade Ryan Stradling, the Banks High School drum line (News-Times centerpiece, March 6) skipped Ryan’s funeral Saturday to participate in the Lebanon Strawberry Festival, a previously scheduled gig.

During the performance, the drummers wore black armbands imprinted with Ryan’s name. Stradling, formerly a passionate drum line member, graduated in 2012 and died of a brain tumor May 25 at the age of 19.

Other friends and classmates helped fill the Banks Community United Methodist Church June 1 for a tearful goodbye to one of their own.

The funeral service started with a single church bell ringing 19 times. From then on, the full crowd of friends and family went from wiping away tears one moment to chuckling at Ryan’s humor and spirit the next.

His mother, Regina Stradling of Banks, remembered calling a very young Ryan “a little nut” and asking “What kind of nut are you?”

“A donut,” Ryan replied.

In a written testimonial, his mother also recounted how Ryan, ever the drummer, “walked around tapping everything, with or without sticks.”

Ryan’s father wrote that music wasn’t Ryan’s only creative outlet. “He made me go to Michaels Arts and Crafts store on a regular basis,” Mark Stradling wrote. “He said it was okay that we were the only guys there and I should stop trying to hurry.”

Ronnie LaGrone, band director at Banks High School and an important mentor to Ryan, recalled getting an email from his student during school one day:

Ryan: “LaGrone — Did you finish the closer for the drum line?”

LaGrone: “Why are you not in English class right now?”

Ryan: “Uh”

LaGrone spoke at the service Saturday and also performed the percussion half of a haunting saxophone-drum set duet.

LaGrone and Alex Heath, Ryan’s best friend, got to say their final goodbyes to Ryan by phone as he lay seemingly unconscious that last night, his favorite game shows (“Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”) playing on TV and his family at his bedside.

Ryan was diagnosed with brain cancer last October, just a few months after he’d performed at a “Relay for Life” anti-cancer fundraiser at Valley Catholic High School.

“LOL” (Laugh Out Loud) Ryan tweeted when recounting the irony of that timing — one of several tweets read at his service. “My New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to stop having cancer, mainly because it prevents me from making other resolutions,” was another, as well as more sobering flashes of Ryan’s struggle, such as “I better not be dying” and his final tweet, “Cuddled up in a penguin blankie.”

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