Jan 18, 2022 - News

Family carries on man's legacy of paying it forward

A cake with a note honoring Ryan Cookson
A birthday cake that was paid for by the family of Ryan Cookson at the Oralabor Hy-Vee. Photo courtesy of Barry Blessing

Last week, we shared a sweet picture with you of a birthday cake that was paid for by a stranger at a Hy-Vee in Polk County. It had a note: "Paid for in honor of Ryan Cookson."

  • We chatted with Cookson's family and learned more about the gesture and their efforts to keep his spirit of kindness going. Here's their story.

State of play: Jan. 12 would have been Cookson's 29th birthday.

  • To commemorate it, his sister, Ashlee Cookson-Bliss, started a new tradition. She went to the Hy-Vee off Oralabor and paid for four birthday cakes in honor of Cookson's favorite number and the time he was born β€” 4:44pm.

It's a gesture that Cookson would have done himself, said his mom, Diane Pettiecord.

  • The young Ankeny man was known for showing kindness β€” cooking Thanksgiving for his friends, giving hitchhikers rides and offering money to people in need.
Ryan Cookson
Ryan Cookson loved the outdoors. Photos courtesy of Diane Pettiecord

Context: Cookson died in 2016, at the age of 23, in an unfortunate accident with a firearm while experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs.

  • Since Cookson's death, his relatives have done random acts of kindness to remember the young son, brother and friend, like paying for a dog adoption at the Animal Rescue League or purchasing coffee for the person behind them.

What they're saying: The family said they didn't expect just how much the cakes would resonate with others.

  • One mom put an extra candle on her son's seventh birthday cake in honor of Cookson.
  • Barry Blessing wrote a Facebook post to the family after learning he was one of the recipients of their generosity when picking up a cake for his wife's birthday.
  • β€œI didn't know a Cookson family (or Ryan's friends) before today, but I feel & acknowledge their presence tonight and know they're out there somewhere within earshot or screenshot, and I hope this post reminds them of all the things they knew and loved about Ryan,” he wrote.

What's next: Cookson's family hopes people do simple acts of kindness to pay it forward.

  • "He did a lot of acts of kindness," Pettiecord said. "He had huge empathy for people."
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