Larry Ryals has been married 52 years to his high school sweetheart, but it isn’t the only marriage he celebrates.
There’s the Ryals family 40-acre ranch land in Refugio to which he is married, and the marriage to the U.S. Air Force.
Ryals, now 71, met Margie Kortz, now 69, when he still lived in Refugio, although she was from Kenedy.
His dad died in 1953, so the family left Refugio to join relatives in Kenedy. But they never sold their land in Refugio.
Larry and Margie married before he joined the U.S. Air Force on May 15, 1967.
“I got high school and college education in the Air Force,” he said.
During his 21 years in the Air Force, the couple were never apart except for 21 days when he went on maneuvers in Sardinia, Italy.
Margie followed him wherever he was stationed, beginning with tech training at Lackland Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. He graduated from tech school in pavements and equipment.
From there he went to a gunnery range in Arizona, then to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin 1971-72.
After that station, he and Margie went to Germany at Hahn Air Force Base, a NATO base.
“They froze rank for a while there,” he said.
And there he made two longtime friends: Ron Flick (now in Virginia) and Sam Dingess (West Virginia).
“We have fond memories of Germany,” Margie said.
“I was very fortunate to be with my family,” Larry said.
After Germany, Ryals was stationed for five years at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.
They were stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, when Hurricane Elena hit in 1985.
Margie said Larry was praised for his work in pavements and equipment.
That means he was expert at building runways, roads and other surfaces, as well as adept at operating equipment such as a backhoe, loaders, scrapers, rollers water trucks and more.
“Larry is a jack of all trades,” Margie said.
She said his crews have been called “Dirt boys” and “Hell on wheels.”
Ryals retired in July 1988 while stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio He left the service as TSgt. Larry Ryals.
He and Margie moved back to San Antonio where he worked in construction for 10 years. He also went into civil service for 15 years.
But Larry always remembered the land his family had in Refugio County. And he yearned for it.
He said he loved that land, so he convinced Margie to come to the 40-acre ranch he worked on during weekends in San Antonio.
He built a house there beginning in 2014 and finishing in 2017. He has 21 cows, a large pond and pasture, he graded and sculpted.
“I did quite a bit of the work,” he said.
“We are very happy here,” Margie said.
He said he donated 21 acres to Lions Shelly Park.
“I’m not happy it is closed. If the pavilion is damaged, they should put danger signs up,” he added.
He and Margie have two children: Kathleen Grace and Daryl Anthony.
“I retired here on June 21,” he said.
“We came back from vacation and saw we got hit with Hurricane Harvey,” he said.
Ryals said he and Margie are blessed because they were able to repair the damages after a year.
He also notes he is blessed to have only hearing and back problems, coming out of a military career.
“I try to help those who are vets,” he said.
“They are doing a great job,” he added.
“For what they have been through, like those coming back from Iraq,” he said of returning veterans.
“They come back with no legs, no arms. They gave the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
“I’m blessed I didn’t serve in a war area (though his brother did).
Now Ryals is back on his beloved land with his beloved. And he said he will always remember veterans, especially those who sacrificed so much.
“On Memorial Day (Monday), normally I place flags all along my fence line,” he said.
Most likely, along with his permanent display, those flags will be there.
Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@mySouTex.com.