Every KansasFest attendee leaves a mark on the event and the Apple II community, but few have attended for as long or have achieved the legacy of Ryan Suenaga.
Ryan attended his first KansasFest in 1996, making the trip from his native Hawai’i at the age of 29. He quickly became known for his trademark apparel, leading him to claim the motto, “Speak softly and wear loud shorts.” A few years later, he accepted the gauntlet Sheppy tossed down: “If you’re a programmer and you don’t have something to show at KansasFest, you suck.” He and the rest of the programming community rose to that challenge, ensuring a steady stream of announcements, surprises, and products for KansasFests to come. Even at KansasFest 2010, the first KansasFest that Ryan had missed since 1995, he submitted a recorded presentation to be played in his absence, announcing the pending release of an email client for the Apple IIGS.
Ryan enriched KansasFest through these and other traditions, both during and after his time on the event’s planning committee. With few opportunities to enjoy Krispy Kreme donuts in Hawai’i, Ryan fell in love with the treat while on the mainland, sharing his passion for the fattening delicacy by buying multiple boxes for his fellow attendees. Even in 2010, he sent funds dedicated to ensuring the tradition continued. Ryan constantly bemoaned his seemingly eternal role as Kirk Mitchell’s roommate, making for an odd couple indeed. Finally, Ryan was an occasional contestant or judge in HackFest, which he one year spun off into his own competition for hardware innovators: CansasFest, challenging attendees to construct their own Wi-Fi antenna.
Sadly, the KansasFest community is left to carry on these many traditions without the man who gave them to us. On Sunday, April 24, 2011, Ryan was hiking Hawai’i’s Olomana Trail with his friends when he suffered a fatal fall. He was 44.
“I only got to meet Ryan one time, at my only KansasFest trek, and I thought he was an absolute delight.” –Carrington Vanston
“He was a social worker, kind man and one of those special people that made KFest the place to be.” –Sandra Warnken
“This breaks my heart … Even though we only met once a year at KFest, that was enough to get me through the rest of the year. You couldn’t ask for a better KFest roomie and friend.” –Kirk Mitchell
“This is like a bolt out of the blue. I have such fond memories of his sense of humour, and kindness, and all that he did for our close community. He will be sorely missed, and leave a large gap in our lives.” –Ewen Wannop
“Ryan has obviously been an important part of the KansasFest community. He died much too soon. About the only good thing you can say is that he died with his boots on.” –Bruce Baker
“Ryan’s life was helpful to all in the Apple II and KFest communities. He was especially resourceful and generous to the old beginners, like me. I remember him and will miss him.” –Jack Hays
“I’ve never met a more honest or less selfish individual than Ryan. The Apple II community and the world lost an amazing individual.” –Dain Neater
Ryan was a dedicated writer, programmer, podcaster, social worker, uncle, and friend. He attended his last KansasFest in 2009 and intended to return in 2011, albeit embarrassed by failing to live up to his own standards: in an email dated April 5, he wrote, “Been so busy here, not only am I behind on email and taxes and blogging and working out … I can barely do anything Apple II right now. Looks like no project for KansasFest this year.”
In reality, nothing will suck more than knowing Ryan, a member of our community for decades, will not attend another KansasFest. His absence in Kansas City and in our lives will be felt for a long time, and his life and memory celebrated at KansasFest 2011.
In the meantime, we offer this gallery of 96 photos of Ryan from Ken Gagne’s albums, from 2002 through 2009, in roughly chronological order. We hope they inspire your own memories of Ryan when he was among the people he loved most, doing what he loved best: being a geek.