Service Above Self

Helen Dorflinger Ryan ’69 learned the importance of service from her mother and has instilled its value in her own children, Keri and Kevin. Together, they made the decision to support the comprehensive campaign and the Salve Compass program by endowing the executive director’s position to ensure that the key leadership role is funded in perpetuity. 

“Service has always been a part of my life,” said Ryan, who is a Paul Harris Fellow through Rotary International, an organization founded on the motto “service above self.” “My mother did everything with a quiet voice but was always giving of herself to others – it’s something you learn from your family.  

“I think the [executive director’s] position will be broad in reach,” she said. “I think of my children and that they didn’t necessarily follow my career path or my husband’s – they’re doing their own thing – but what we did give them was the ability to choose that, to be independent. [The executive director] will have a wide-ranging impact on students – there are plenty of ways to reach out and spread your wings and the Compass program will do that, so we’re 100% behind it.” 

Ryan graduated from Salve with a degree in nursing and now serves on the Board of Trustees. As a student, she served in the Naval ROTC (Navy Nurse Corps) in Newport and launched her nursing career at hospitals in Connecticut and Missouri. She taught nursing before joining the National Institutes of Health as a nurse administrator and also worked in public school systems in Maryland and South Carolina, ultimately leading Hilton Head Island High School as its principal. Ryan finished her professional career working beside her late husband Don in their health benefits management company, CareCore National, as a community outreach manager.  

A lifelong learner, Ryan believes that the strength of Salve’s nursing program lies in its broad scope, which enabled her to pursue both her master’s and doctoral degrees.  

“Salve prepared me not only for nursing but for learning,” Ryan said. “We had to use all the skills we learned, not just the skills from our major. I think the more experiences you have, the broader learner you will be. You have the ability to see a situation, solve the problem, and take action.”

Ryan’s volunteer service is extensive. She has served as a board member for the Catholic Community Foundation and the Hilton Head Island Rotary, and was a delegate on an International Rotary visit to Ghana to review global project initiatives and identify continuing needs of various villages. She has also served in leadership roles for several community organizations, including the Island School Council of the Arts, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, Arts in the Community Committee, the United Way of Hilton Head, the American Heart Association and the Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton.

“Salve’s history and purpose have never waned,” she said. “[The University] is growing in such a positive manner as far as expanding its scope and field of learning, as well as promoting strength and leadership among men and women, while still being so faith-filled – to me that is something that students today are looking for.” 

Believing that mercy is a spirit of love and compassion, Ryan has held Salve’s mission close throughout her life. “I hopefully carry [mercy] through my actions and what I have come to believe in,” she said. “As far as my faith goes, it is what we need to continue to foster in the communities that we live in. It’s giving of yourself – we can give by sharing with others if we are willing to reach out.”

Ryan’s advice to current students is very much in alignment with the goals of the Salve Compass. “Take a time of reflection,” she offered. “Besides studying, how did you get here and why did you come? Yes, you’ll learn a lot scholastically, but what else will you take with you when you leave?

“Hopefully you will take an understanding and compassion for giving not only of yourself and what you have learned here but what you can share with others no matter where you are,” she added. “It isn’t just book learning, it’s your direction in life and how you will deal with the positive and negative, there will always be both. What you will fall back on, hopefully it will be your faith.”