A Life of Adventure and Service
As the superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Boone County, Robert R. Ryder is exactly where he wants to be.
“I love my job. I feel lucky to have it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he says.
For Ryder, who also spent 20 years on the air and in the newsroom at WTVO, this is the latest stop in a life of adventure.
Born and raised in Joliet, Ryder worked in the mental health field for six years before applying for law schools. He got into three, then applied to the Marine Corps. When he wasn’t accepted as a law officer, he enlisted.
“I wanted to travel the world and challenge myself,” he says.
As a Marine Corps broadcast journalist/combat correspondent, Ryder spent a year in Okinawa, Japan and another two at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
“I did radio and television,” he says. “I did print media and photography. I anchored the news and even did some segments for a local ABC affiliate.”
Ryder returned to Joliet after four years but, serving as a reservist, he soon enough found himself back in uniform, this time serving in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as Operation Desert Storm wound down.
“I got there about three weeks after the ground war was over,” he says. “I like to joke that the Iraqis heard I was coming and surrendered.”
After returning to civilian life, Ryder settled in Rockford and began looking for broadcasting work.
“I started knocking on doors,” he says. “Nobody was hiring, so I said I’d work for free.”
WTVO took Ryder up on his offer. He started part-time writing, editing and operating a camera. After a few years, he was bumped up to full-time.
“I was a photographer for two years and was then promoted to reporter and eventually was promoted to Senior Reporter,” he says. I started to do a bit of anchoring and I went to school for meteorology. I was Mr. Fill-In. It was challenging, but it was also wonderful.”
After 20 years in the broadcasting world, Ryder decided to look for something new. He spent a brief time in public relations before taking on his current role, helping his fellow veterans navigate the Veterans Affairs healthcare system, assisting them with claims and providing emotional support.
“Every person who comes through our door, we try to help,” he says. “I’m no war hero, but I’ve spoken to plenty who are. They helped when our country was in need, and I want to do everything I can to help them now.”