News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 16, 2014

Dream of a lifetime

Charity founders replenish themselves on cruise; she sings with stars, buries feet in the sand

TERRE HAUTE — It was “a dream of a lifetime” for one Terre Haute woman.

On Sunday, Muriel Ryan spoke enthusiastically about three exciting things: The cruise she took with her husband; an unforgettable experience she had on board singing in the choir that accompanied the famous gospel singer, Sandi Patty; and her hopes of bringing the singer to Terre Haute.

Muriel and Bernard “Bernie” Ryan boarded a ship on Feb. 23 for a week-long tour of the Caribbean. The husband and wife have been on numerous trips together, but this cruise was extra special.

Bernard is now at the early-middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease, specifically suffering from frontal temporal lobe disorder, Muriel said.

Because he has been on a cruise once before, he wanted to experience a cruise with his wife, their first cruise together.

“He wanted to do it with me,” Muriel said, “so I decided to press nickels and dimes to do it,” while he could still remember it.

Inside their southside home on Sunday, the couple browsed through digital photos — more than 200 of them — taken from their adventure.

“I tried to go on the zip line,” 73-year-old Bernie said, but he added that his wife didn’t find the activity interesting.

There were pictures of flowers, ships, feet on white sand, Patty and other artists, Muriel on stage and ocean, of course.

“It’s something that I wanted us to have saved in our memory bank,” Muriel said.

Entertainment was a factor in searching for the cruise because in addition to Alzheimer’s, Bernie has also been having “strokes that are causing him to go deaf.”

“I wanted him to hear the music,” Muriel said.

But what Bernie heard was more than music from Patty, a Grammy award-winning Christian music singer. He also heard his wife sing.

Muriel, who has been singing gospel music for more than 55 years, was one of 180 singers in a choir that sang on stage live with Patty and other artists.

On the cruise, the same choir sang with Patty when she re-recorded “More than Wonderful,” for the breakthrough recording’s 30th anniversary.

 Patty, who lived in Indiana for part of her life, is known for her wide vocal range. To critics and fans, she’s simply, “The Voice.”

“It was unbelievable,” Muriel said of her experience.

The Terre Haute native has been singing in choirs since she was 12. In addition to having done a recording, Muriel, a soprano, also mentioned her experience singing the National Anthem before a Minnesota Vikings football game at the Metrodome in 1988.

“I feel like it’s [her voice] is … a gift,” Muriel, 65, said.

“I get a spiritual high” when singing gospel music, she said. “God has done so many powerful things” and “to praise and honor him” through song is “just the height of being in his presence.”

After seeing so much suffering among the hungry and homeless through her work at Families by Choice, a charity she founded with Bernie, she sometimes needs spiritual refreshment, she said. Singing to God gives her a sense of peace, love and caring for others, she added, and it “restores my faith in what I do.”

“That replenishment is so valuable to me.”

Because of the connection she has made with Patty, her family and manager, there are now plans to bring Patty to Terre Haute in the fall of 2015 for a fundraising concert at the Indiana Theatre, Muriel said. The concert will benefit Families by Choice.

Muriel said Patty was “empathetic” to the plight of the homeless and hungry in the area. But even if Patty donates her services, there are still other costs associated with putting on the concert, she said, so sponsors are being sought for the event.

Families by Choice, she said, is also welcoming other monetary donations to help with the charity’s other expenses, such as winter utility bills.

And Muriel shared one of the messages she got from these recent experiences.

 “We are called to love,” she said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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