Denver Bar Association
October 2007
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A Sister’s Personal Journey: The Aaron J. Ryan Living Memorial Library, San Bernabe, Guatemala

by Kimberlie K. Ryan

Bittersweet Victory

In January, after a ferocious seven-year legal battle against a multi-billion dollar corporation and its army of attorneys, a Denver federal jury awarded two of my individual clients $3.175 million, one of the largest sexual harassment verdicts in Colorado history, and my personal best at trial.

A few days later, my beloved Auntie Pattie told me that my 29-year-old younger brother, Aaron, had died of an unexpected massive heart attack. I knew then I needed to get away for a time. Luckily, I already had planned an April trip to Guatemala with my son, Kyle. Looking back, I do not believe it was luck; it was an inspiring synchronicity of events.

A Well-Timed Vacation

At the ACLU’s Carl Whitehead Memorial dinner last August, I had won a week’s stay in a beautiful colonial-style home in Antigua, Guatemala. It had been donated by Vince DeGarlais, a former Denver attorney who lives in Guatemala and helps the local people through the Rotary and the Colorado-based Coghill Foundation.

We were looking forward to the trip to "get away from it all," and to write and practice our Spanish. We had no way of knowing what an amazing gift our vacation would become.

As we prepared to leave, we learned about The Coghill Foundation’s Project Village, which helps indigenous families in communities impacted by the country’s civil war, which ended in 1986. The village of San Bernabe is one such community. After the war, 16 families — farm workers who before essentially had been indentured servants — took a loan to buy the village property. Six families remained after a year of sleeping in nylon tents and eating only corn tortillas. Those families form the heart of the 200-person village. Project Village funds the community school, among many other valuable projects.

"The Kids Have No Books"

When I asked Vince how we could help Project Village, his words inspired our living memorial to my brother, an avid reader:

"Our next program in the school itself probably will be to establish a small library in the school. The school currently has a catalogue of 0 (that is right — zero) books other than the few textbooks that they provide to the students. Guatemala has no public libraries and there is NO tradition of reading. Bedtime stories are something that happens in television programs and not in the homes. Books are a very expensive luxury and are cost-prohibitive for the families who are living on a minimal, subsistence level."

I later learned that in addition to the high-cost of books, the mail system is unreliable. What seemed like an easy fix (just send some books!) turned out to be more involved — they need to be hand-delivered!

The words just kept ringing in my head — "the kids have no books." As our vacation approached, it turned into a mission. We decided to establish a library for the children in honor of my brother. We set out to collect books for The Aaron J. Ryan Living Memorial Library — in four days.

Vacation Turned Mission

We spent the days before take-off finding, buying and collecting Spanish-language children’s books wherever we could find them. We hit up our generous family members, friends and fellow lawyers for book donations, and we were able to purchase books from Barnes & Noble and Goodwill Industries. Some of my favorites are the books that have both English and Spanish for the children to learn. We gathered almost 100 children’s books in four days.

I couldn’t wait to give the children their new books. Though Kyle and I are rather proficient Spanish-speakers, when we arrived in San Bernabe to present the children with the books, we were so overwhelmed by the moment that we both forgot every word of Spanish we knew! Thankfully, Vince graciously interpreted for us and told the children about the new library.

Smiles in Any Language

I never have seen such joy on so many children’s faces. At that moment, we didn’t need a spoken language. The smiles spoke of our bond; our human connection needed no words.

Our goal of having at least one book for each child was a success. We started the library with almost 100 books for the 75 children. With the first seeds planted, we are on to our next goal — to double the size of the library.

You can help. If you would like to contribute to The Aaron J. Ryan Living Memorial Library, you can write a check to "The Coghill Foundation," with a notation "Ryan Library" and send it to Kimberlie Ryan, The Ryan Law Firm, LLC, 283 Columbine St., #157, Denver, CO 80206; or, you can collect Spanish-language children’s books and contact me at to arrange for donation. The Coghill Foundation is a 501(c)(3), and will provide a receipt for tax-deduction purposes.

A Note About My Brother Aaron

• My brother, Aaron, sang like an Angel (ok, maybe a Boy Band Angel). He inspires me to sing again. I sing duets with him to his cd, "Testify to Love."

• He loved to drive his truck.

• He loved Dune.

• He read voraciously and studied religious texts.

• He loved Thor, his beloved Schnauzer.

• He traveled to Mexico to build homes and help people.

• He cooked for the homeless and gave his Friday nights to serve them.

• He claimed to be "the only person in North America who doesn’t want a cell phone."

• He liked to write me "short" notes of "less than 50-thousand words."

• He, like his sister, was not a morning person in any way, shape or form. As he said, "I only recognize one six o’clock a day, and it comes as the sun is setting."

• He had an excellent sense of humor and kind heart.

• He is loved and missed by many.

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