Ever since he read "Kon-Tiki" when he was a little boy, Don Ryan dreamed of being like the famed Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, who in 1947 sailed more than 4,000 miles from Peru to Polynesia on a balsa-wood raft.
"I followed his career my whole life," said Ryan '79, a faculty fellow at PLU who later became an academic partner and friend to Heyerdahl.
Now it's likely Ryan will finish Heyerdahl's last book - his final words on the Kon-Tiki expedition, which the two had been working on before Heyerdahl died April 18 at age 87.
By chance, Ryan saw Heyerdahl, an esteemed anthropologist, archeologist and author, at the Royal Geographical Society in London a decade ago. Ryan pushed his way up to talk to him, and they chatted for half an hour. A couple years later, Ryan went to see Heyerdahl at his home on the Canary Islands, and discovered Heyerdahl needed someone to help him research. The pair became partners and friends, and Ryan continues to work for the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.
"He was the one man I really wanted to meet in my life," Ryan said. "He was my hero back then and he still is. I had a fear before I met him that I would be disappointed, but the more I got to know him the more I admired him. He was an extraordinary individual of great intelligence and high integrity."
Along with his many adventurers, his in-depth research and his many published works, Heyerdahl also worked hard toward world peace and a clean environment.
PLU presented Heyerdahl with a President's Medal for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement in 1996, 30 years after he received a PLU Distinguished Service Award. He spoke at commencement in 1998 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters.