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Community Changemaker: Scott Ryan

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on April 25, 2018


For decades, Scott Ryan has shaped his community through philanthropy. From building a house worth a thousand bake sales to putting a few dollars in a foundation’s basement, he believes in doing something when the opportunity comes up. Scott shared his story with TTCF in an interview about his approach to community changemaking.

The son of an oil and gas geologist, Scott grew up in four different states in the Midwest. He had a simple upbringing that he still treasures, remembering days in the back of a four-door Dodge Polaris.

Scott attended Antioch, a small, private liberal arts college in the cornfields of Yellow Springs, Ohio. He studied architecture and spent his free time with friends canoeing, camping, and day-tripping. After completing his undergraduate degree, he stayed nearby for several years working in architecture before feeling pulled to the West Coast. Scott’s mother was raised in San Francisco, and he still had family there. He completed his graduate studies at Berkeley in 1986 determined to “fix our housing problem” inspired by his thesis Transitional Housing for the Homeless. After college, Scott was ready to connect with nature beyond what city parks could satisfy.

“I loved living across the water from one of the world’s most captivating cities, but I wanted something else. I needed an environment that was closer to dirt, rocks, and tall trees,” Scott said.

When Scott moved to North Tahoe-Truckee, he became involved in philanthropy and volunteered his architecture skills to help Excellence in Education Foundation (EEF) and local schools. One of his projects, that he muses may never had happened if he knew what he was getting into, was building the EEF’s “Endowment House.” It involved a lot of time, volunteers, materials, and money, and took a few years to complete- a task that “equated to several hundred bake sales – every day for a couple of years.”

Just over twenty years ago, Scott attended a community presentation that shared a vision for what would eventually become Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF). William Hewlett offered the region a gift of one million dollars, along with a challenge to match another million dollars with gifts from the community. Hewlett saw the possibilities that a community foundation could bring to North Tahoe-Truckee, and the promise of a philanthropic steward embedded into the future of the region.

“It was at the ground floor, or was it the basement? It was imperative that those in the community that could give a few dollars would do so. I still recall that once I got home the first thing I did was sit at my dining room table and write a check. It was an immeasurably small gift compared to Hewlett’s challenge, but even small acts can have an impact.”

That was the first community donation that would eventually become one million dollars to match Hewlett’s challenge. Eventually thousands of community members would join Scott Ryan in his financial support of Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation which now holds assets at nearly $27 million and has channeled over $25 million in grants and scholarships into North Tahoe-Truckee.

Scott eventually served as a TTCF Board Member and then Board Chair, opportunities for which he is still extremely grateful. He regularly attends Past Board Chair meetings to help inform TTCF’s work and has helped guide the vision of a more caring, creative, and effective community for two decades.

As he says, a lot can come from a little.