Honoring A Life That Mattered
Before Ryan Wood had a chance to chase all his dreams, war claimed his life. But his passion for life lives on in the form of a scholarship that’s making others’ dreams come true.
Wood was serving with the Army in the Iraqi War when a buried bomb killed him and four of his fellow soldiers on June 21, 2007. Just two weeks prior, he received word that he had been awarded an art scholarship to the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and a chance to come home from the war to pursue his lifelong love of drawing.
After Wood’s death, his family yearned for a way to perpetuate his memory and make a difference in someone else’s life. That’s when they established the Sgt. Ryan Wood Freedom Art Scholarship.
“Ryan would be very happy with the scholarship. He’s clapping and high-fiving right now,” says his father, Scott Vincent. “All of us in the family went to UCO; Ryan would have been the last to go. We were ready for him to come home. This is a way to carry on his name and memory.”
Wood’s penchant for art was evident as young as age two. His mother learned about his skills during a time when he was fascinated by sharks and asked her to draw one for him.
“She drew a little figure eight with teeth and fins, and Ryan said, ‘No.’ She asked him if he would like to try, and he drew a Great White Shark,” Scott says.
Wood continued his artwork all through his growing-up years, drawing everything from animals to aliens to monsters, using his artistic skills to convey both joy and angst. He kept up his artwork when he entered the military, always keeping a sketch pad with him, even at the time of his death.
His preferred medium was pen and ink, Scott says, and he loved the detail work of his art. Scott says his favorite piece is titled “My War,” which Wood continued to work on until he went to Iraq. It features elements from today’s culture and his own world.
“It chronicles his life; it’s a self-portrait of a young man’s life,” Scott says. “He could put such detail into a piece that only he would know if there was a mistake.”
UCO has embraced the Vincent family’s desire to honor Wood and his creativity. In March, the university showed Wood’s work in an exhibit. And on May 3, the first Sgt. Ryan Wood Freedom Art Scholarship will be awarded to Emily Brackett, an incoming freshman art major who graduated from Edmond Santa Fe High School.
The scholarship is open to any declared art student. To be considered, they must produce a piece of art of any medium and write a one-page essay about what freedom means to them, tying the art into the essay.
“Emily really got it,” Wood’s mother, Renee Vincent, says. “She really showed a lot of maturity and took the time to think about the essay. Ryan would have liked her. He would have wanted to talk to her and see what she’s about and looked at her art.”
The Vincent family plans to turn the scholarship into a full ride to UCO. To accomplish that, they’re holding a variety of fundraisers and accepting donations. On May 29-30, the family is holding a garage sale fundraiser at their home, 9731 Berkley Circle in Oklahoma City. On July 11, which is Wood’s birthday, they are holding the second memorial golf tournament at Coffee Creek. They’re also selling T-shirts designed by one of Wood’s friends as well as taking donations.
Creating the scholarship and telling people about Wood is cathartic for the family, but it also lets others know about Wood, his personality and the way he lived his life. He was someone who could always enliven a room, root for the underdog and be a friend to everyone he met.
“We want people to know that Ryan mattered and that he made a difference and continues to make a difference,” Renee says. “It means a lot to us. It takes some of the pain out and replaces it with joy. That’s what I would call Ryan when we wrote back and forth: ‘My Son, My Hero, My Joy.’”
“He was an amazing young man. He was almost 23, but he was born old. He was very philosophical, always asking, ‘Why?’ He did a lot of things in a very short amount of time. He didn’t let a moment go by,” says Scott.
The Vincent family said they’re looking forward to picking each year’s recipient of the Sgt. Ryan Wood Freedom Art Scholarship. In addition to Scott and Renee Vincent, their children are: Candice Bunce, Jenifer Campbell, Scott Vincent Jr. and Stephanie Wood. Ryan’s father, Bonner Wood and wife Brenda, also are from Oklahoma.