George Ryan, longtime Shelton auto dealer, 'treated everyone like family'

SHELTON — George Ryan, founder of Curtiss Ryan Honda, is being remembered for his dedication to his family, the region’s business community and the City of Shelton, which he called home for decades. 

Ryan, who moved to Venice, Fla., after 60 years living in Shelton, died Oct. 2.  

“He was my biggest hero,” said his daughter, Kim Ryan Caro. “I find comfort knowing he’s in heaven dancing with my mother.” 

Born in New Haven, he was the son of Francis C. Ryan and Mary Wasilowich Ryan Sucay.

Rich Foehrenbach, whose father, also Rich, partnered with Ryan in running Curtiss Ryan Honda, called Ryan "a big part of the community and our lives."

“His passing is deeply saddening for everyone. He meant a lot to so many people," Foehrenbach said.

Foehrenbach, now president of Curtiss Ryan Honda, recalled how Ryan stressed how without the community “we don’t exist” as a business. 

“He was always about giving back,” said Foehrenbach, who grew up alongside the Ryans and began working at the dealership more than 40 years ago, cleaning and moving cars. 

Ryan attended Hillhouse High School in New Haven and graduated from Shelton High School, where he met Beatrice Ryan, to whom he had been married for more than 74 years. The pair met at school, where he was a football player, and she was a cheerleader. Beatrice died in 2020.

He was a veteran of the U.S. Army and served with the 420 Ordinance Company in the European Theatre of Operations. 

After the war he was a member of the Little Elephant Club and served on the Shelton Board of Apportionment & Taxation while working at National Credit System as treasurer and GM for 18 years. 

Ryan joined Curtiss-Bros Lincoln Mercury as general manager, and then purchased the business in 1971 when the brothers retired. The Honda franchise was added, and it became Curtiss Ryan Honda in 1973. Ryan would go on to be recognized for distinguished service to the community and the industry, later being named “Time Magazine Quality Dealer of the Year.” 

“I remember everything he ever taught me,” said Caro, adding that she grew up in the dealership. “Our dad, even at 98 years old, was the smartest man we ever knew. We always went to him for advice, with questions and he was always there for us.” 

Caro worked at the dealership for 44 years before retiring. 

Bob DeMarco, Ryan’s nephew, recalls growing up at the dealership, starting by washing cars on weekends at 16. He is now sales manager. 

“(Ryan) treated everyone like family,” DeMarco said. 

DeMarco said Ryan and Richard Foehrenbach, his business partner, built the company on honesty and integrity and treated their employees as members of their family.

“Family was so important to him,” DeMarco said about his uncle. 

Ryan was active over the years in many aspects of the auto industry. He was president of the Valley New Car Dealer Association, served as president of the Tri-Honda Advertising Association and served on the Lincoln Mercury National Dealers Council. 

He was president of the CT Automobile Retail Association, where he was instrumental in organizing a truth in advertising review board which he chaired. 

“George was a very kind man and fair to all,” said Betsey Doane, president of the Derby-Shelton Rotary Club. “He was one every businessman should emulate.”  

Ryan was also active in the community, serving as chair of the Lower Naugatuck Valley Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of the Better Business Bureau of Southwestern Connecticut. 

He was also president of the lower Naugatuck Valley Council on drug and alcohol abuse and fundraising for the United Way. He was on the Board of Directors of the Valley Substance Abuse Action Council, trustee of Hewitt Memorial Hospital, coordinator of Griffin Hospital and a director of the Shelton housing partnership. 

He also served on the Board of Directors of the Shelton Economic Development Corporation and on the Shelton Senior Citizen Commission. 

Aleta Miner first met Ryan in 1994 when she began her career with the Shelton Economic Development Corporation. Miner, now the SEDC executive assistant, said he was a “friendly and kind gentleman always willing to share his keen business sense with me.” 

Miner said one of the projects he helped oversee while director was the construction of the Shelton Farm and Public Market building on Canal Street. 

“Realizing that this was a multi-use facility, George combined his love of dancing and civic mindedness to establish a senior citizen’s dance program downtown,” said Miner. “He and his late wife, Bea, loved to dance and were happy to share that experience with the other members of the community.” 

Ryan was active in the United Way and organized radio fundraisers from the Curtiss Ryan showroom in conjunction with WADS radio station. He was also a member of the Bridgeport Catholic Family Advisory Board and was elected a member of the Presidents Club of Sacred Heart University. He was appointed special deputy of Fairfield County. 

Over the years, he was awarded the Shelton Jaycees distinguished service award and was honored by the Valley Chief of Police Association for extraordinary service to the regional street crime unit. 

He also earned the Valley Chamber of Commerce Gold Seal award, Shelton 2000's Millennium award, the State of Connecticut General Assembly citation and the Congressional Community Service award from Sacred Heart for assistance in establishing a campus in the Valley. 

Ryan is survived by his two daughters, Pamela O’Brien (late husband, Paul O’Brien) and Kimberly Caro (husband Ron Caro); five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

He was predeceased by a daughter, Patricia Ryan; two sisters, Mary Lou Anderson and Gerri DeMarco; and a brother, Francis Ryan.  

Friends may greet the family from 4 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Riverview Funeral Home, 390 River Road, Shelton. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Nov. 11 at 10 a.m. in St. Lawrence Church, 505 Shelton Ave., Shelton.   

Memorial donations can be made to the Valley Community Foundation in memory of the George & Beatrice Scholarship Fund, 253-A Elizabeth Street, Derby, CT 06418. 

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com