A quality guy with a passion for aviation
“It was a good way to arrive, I guess, seeing I’m the new airport director,” he said with a laugh.
Ryks came to Grand Rapids from Duluth, where he was the executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority since 2002, to replace GFIA’s longtime director Jim Koslosky who retired after 20 years at the helm. In Duluth, Ryks oversaw operations for two airports, Duluth International and Sky Harbor. Before that, he managed the St. Cloud Regional Airport and taught aviation management courses at St. Cloud State University.
“It’s gone very well. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. Anytime you come into a new organization, the biggest challenges are some of the things that you take for granted, like trying to figure out how to work the phones, find the passwords and try to remember names,” he said of an experience to which everyone can relate. “But we’re getting there. I think the first day is always the hardest and you tend to improve as you go.”
What got Ryks headed down the runway to an aeronautics career was an internship in 1985 at the Metropolitan Airports Commission in Minneapolis. A year later, he became a noise and operations technician for the commission. He stayed with the commission until he went to Denver International Airport in 1990 to manage the noise abatement department, and that’s where his career took off.
Five years later, he began managing his first airport in Aberdeen, S.D.
“If it wouldn’t have been for that internship, I don’t know what I’d be doing. It allowed me to go to the Minneapolis Airport and work for three months during the summer. I tell people I learned more during those three months than I think I learned in all of my schooling,” he said.
“After I completed school, I called them back, and they were willing to hire me part time. I think it was $5 an hour and no benefits, and I hoped that something permanent would come along and it did. I would say that’s probably been the biggest break because if I wouldn’t have been able to get in there part time for $5 an hour, who knows what I’d be doing.”
Ryks was born in the Twin Cities suburb of Farmington but grew up in nearby Lakeville, which is Minneapolis’ most southern suburb. He grew up as a Twins, Vikings and Gophers fan.
“It’s difficult, though, to be a Gophers football fan as they just haven’t gotten over any kind of a hump since (head coach) Lou Holtz left. Everyone was depressed when Holtz left, and they haven’t been able to get on track since,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to getting to know the Tigers and the teams over here because I like sports.”
Ryks first became interested in aviation when he lived in Lakeville. One day while he was mowing his parent’s lawn, a neighbor who was a DC-9 captain for Republic Airlines asked him if he wanted to go flying. The aircraft, a 1930’s-era Stearman biplane, was parked on a grass runway situated between two cornfields.
“He handed me the leather headset with goggles,” said Ryks. He jumped into the front seat and, after they were airborne for a few minutes, his neighbor told him to take over the controls.
“When I think about that today, I still get chills. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had. My first thought after I jumped out of the plane was ‘I need to get involved in aviation.’ That’s the story and that’s what developed my passion for the industry.” He then went to flight school and got his pilot’s license.
Ryks has been married to Tracy for 24 years. They’ve bought a house near Morrison Lake, south of Saranac. They met at St. Cloud State University, where he graduated with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in aeronautics, and she earned a mass communications degree.
Tracy owns E-Marketing Media, a marketing and business development firm she operates from their home. “She has clients in Minnesota and Wisconsin and she has a background in marketing, sales and public relations. She has had this business for, I would say, probably two or three years,” he said.
The Ryks have three children. MacKenzie, “Mac,” is their oldest and a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. Meghan just graduated from high school and also is headed to the University of Minnesota. Jaxyn is the youngest and will join the Ryks at Morrison Lake to start high school this fall.
Even though Ryks has been here a little more than a month, he is already becoming involved in the community. He will be the airport’s representative to the Grand Valley Metro Council.
“I’ve been involved in those area planning groups for many, many years throughout my career, with the airport being an integral part of the transportation network. So I’ll be used to participating in that organization,” he said. Ryks will also be part of the Forest Hills Business Association.
As for industry groups, Ryks is a member of the Airport Council International and the American Association of Airport Executives. He currently serves as president of the AAAE Great Lakes Chapter, which covers 12 states and two Canadian providences.
“We found a quality guy. I know he is going to do a good job for the airport,” said Joseph Tomaselli, chairman of the airport board.
Ryks said he feels privileged to be here and to be able to direct what he called “a wonderful airport.” He credited Koslosky and his crew with “setting a very strong foundation” for the facility. “That and the quality of life in the area are what interested me in this position,” he said.
Ryks said he wants to continue expanding the service at GFIA and wants to land Southwest Airlines, along with other providers.
“I look to be involved with community economic development activities. I think that goes hand-in-hand with the airport as an economic driver in the region,” he said.
“I also want to ensure that we’re providing the best service, from a customer-service standpoint, that we can because I don’t take our customers for granted. We want people to use the local airport and we understand that they have a choice, and we want that choice to be out of Grand Rapids.”