Born in Brooklyn, John Zangari-Ryan fell in love with the beauty and untapped potential of the Susquehanna River while studying at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove.
“I chose Susquehanna (University) for its English department and education program,” he said. “I spent the summer in Selinsgrove between my junior and senior year. I needed some entertainment. The river was close — and gorgeous.”
It was love at first sight.
“The beauty and expansiveness of the Susquehanna lured me into a path of curiosity. I got my first exposure to the river via boating, however the nooks of shallow water beckoned for a different type of boat,” he recalled. “I began to experiment with kayaking and found a very personable way to explore the river.”
Ryan graduated from Susquehanna in 2004 with a degree in English and a “bounty” of education classes. However, instead of returning to the urban lifestyle he lived previously, Ryan decided to stick around the Susquehanna Valley.
He was offered a job running an after-school program in Lewisburg. He decided to complete his master’s degree in education at Bucknell. Over time, he found a unique way to merge his desire to educate and his passion for the local river.
“Although I knew I wanted to teach, I also knew I didn’t want to be in the classroom — a great contradiction for an educator,” he said. “My simple goal was never to wear a tie to work. My ultimate goal became providing the opportunity for anyone to explore the Susquehanna.”
Ultimately, he and his wife started Customized Tutoring Services in Lewisburg, offering support to local districts but also developing a series of kayaking camps and programs for young people.
Zangari-Ryan brings his extensive history of working with Valley students and his passion for paddling our waterways to our first Floating Classroom experience of 2020 aboard the Hiawatha Paddleboat in Williamsport on Tuesday, July 28, from 10-11 a.m.
Joining him as an instructor on the cruise will be UPMC-Susquehanna educator Starlett Bixby, who has been a nurse for more than 32 years. Her professional career has primarily centered around pre-hospital and critical care nursing. Bixby was a flight nurse for 23 years specializing in neonatal, pediatric and adult critical care. She was also a clinical instructor for the Pennsylvania College of Technology in the Paramedicine program. For the past three years, Bixby worked as a Trauma Program Manager at Geisinger Medical Center before joining UPMC Susquehanna in March of 2017. Currently Bixby is the Trauma Program Manager tasked with building a Level II Trauma Center at UPMC Susquehanna.
Also presenting on the cruise will beMiddle Susquehanna Riverkeeper John Zaktansky and Susquehanna Greenway Executive Director Corey Ellison. The group of presenters will be sharing a variety of boating safety tips and tricks, offering hands-on learning and interactive games for young people and their families.
Restrictions involving COVID-19 has limited the capacity for the float, but some seats still remain. The staff of the Hiawatha recently shared the following guidelines to ensure safety on each float:
"Tables will be 6 feet apart, 6 feet away from the bar and no more than groups of 4 can be seated at a table. Facial coverings must be worn by passengers when boarding and departing cruises and when moving about the enclosed lower deck. Masks may be removed when seated at tables in side the lower deck or on any open-air spaces including the bow and upper deck. Social distancing guidelines will be enforced on the open-air bow and upper deck where passengers may move about freely. All employees will be required to wear facial coverings. Hand sanitizing stations will be available on both decks and high touch areas will be cleaned frequently."
Tickets are $10 for child under 18 (those 2 and under are free but still need a ticket). Parents/guardians are $5 and each additional child (under 18) from a family is $8. Seats will be filled based on when payments are received, and registration is available below.
If you have any additional questions, email John Zaktansky by clicking here.
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John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.