Ryan Yantis

Designation: Communications Executive
Ryan Yantis is an accomplished and award-winning communications executive with a rich history of delivering dynamic, informative and reflective multimedia presentations. He combines candor, humor and valuable information into customized themes and topics of interest related to motivational leadership, reputation management, crisis communications and personal safety preparedness. His reputation for compelling, engaging communications has positioned Ryan as a sought after speaker to corporations, universities, professional organizations and community groups.

As a survivor of the 9/11 Pentagon Attack who was decorated for his actions on that historic day, Ryan provides his personal account of duty, providence and overcoming challenges in the face of danger. In a multimedia presentation, he interacts with the audience fielding a wide range of questions on the events, policies and the history leading up to the 9/11 Attacks, and offers insightful observations related to impact on our country and ongoing conflict. With diversity of personal and professional experience as a veteran, historian and Army Public Affairs Officer, Ryan has led more than 100 presentations for schools, veterans groups, police academies, first responders, and other organization involved in service to our nation.

Ryan is a distinguished alumnus of the University of Missouri-Columbia and graduate of executive communications and public affairs programs. During his 20+ year military career which began in 1984, he served as a cavalry officer in Germany and Korea, and then taught ROTC in Minnesota. He was recruited to become an Army spokesman in 1993, and served in Europe and Africa as a Public Affairs Officer, supporting operations in over a dozen countries. He was selected to be the Director of Army Public Affairs – New York, and was later the Deputy Chief of the Media Relations Division, Department of Army in the Pentagon.

In 2003 he came to Chicago and led in the creation of Army Public Affairs – Midwest, a regional outreach office with responsibility for an 11 state area. He retired from the Army in 2006 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and began five years of leadership service in the non-profit sector, first as the executive director of the Pritzker Military Library and later the Korean War National Museum. In the private sector, he served as Managing Supervisor with Fleishman-Hillard Inc., a leading PR firm, and as the principal of Yantis Consulting, a full-service public relations firm, specializing in crisis communication and mitigation. He is currently the Communications Manager for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a cabinet-level state agency charged with supporting Illinois’ 721,000 veterans with a workforce of 1,300 and a budget of over $151 million.

Born and raised in California, Ryan moved his family to Crystal Lake, Illinois in 2003. He has three great daughters and is active with the Union League Club of Chicago, the US Army Public Affairs Alumni Association, American Legion, and the Association of the United States Army. He supports the USO-Illinois and other worthy military/veteran organizations. He is a founding member of American Pride, Inc.

Mark Paul John

Designation: Speaker
Mark Paul John is an amazing artist, originally born and raised on the south side of Chicago, he currently resides in Mesa, Arizona. Mark has an incredible way of stirring the viewers emotions as he brings his artwork to life. You can see the passion in his work as well as the creativity that comes from within.

Mark’s Talk – “Someone You Should Know”

My talk will send a simple message, think in a positive way. To help your neighbor and have passion for whatever you do in life. I will share experiences that I’ve had throughout my life with the hopes of inspiring the audience not only to reflect on my good deeds, but to help spread positive attitude through actions.

Mark’s Story

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an artist, be able to create and share my work with the world. I am a self-taught artist that has always been labeled as being a bit of a dreamer, that characterization is something that I still embrace even today. I have always believed that you can achieve your goals by following your dreams. I created one piece in particular, titled American Pride back in 2002. It was a charcoal piece that depicted three firefighters hoisting up the American flag after the attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001.

It all started back in February, 2002. I decided to draw a couple of pictures for a local fundraiser for 18-month-old little girl named Crystal, she had a brain tumor. I wanted to draw something that everyone could relate to, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to inspire people through my art so they might pause for a moment and reflect on some of life’s more unfortunate realities. So I decided to draw Walter Payton, of the Chicago Bears.

As I was searching for the subject for my second drawing, I had the television on behind me as I tried to brainstorm. I had the channel set to A&E & found my inspiration from a documentary being shown on the September 11, 2001 attacks.

As I listened, the program caught my attention, and as I turn my head to see what I was hearing, I looked upon the infamous footage of our brave firefighters hoisting up the American flag at ground zero. It was like a light bulb went off in my head, I knew immediately what I was going to do. About 12 hours later I completed the charcoal piece, it was very emotional for me to create this as I felt like I put my heart and soul into it. I made a couple copies and I matted and framed one of the copies to bring to the fundraiser for Crystal. I met several Firefighters and military personnel at the benefit which expressed great gratitude and showed tremendous interest in the piece of art that I just created, several of them asked if and where they could buy one.

At that point, selling these and trying to make money off of tragedy did not sit well with me. My heart compelled me to give them away, so I took down their information and I told them I would be in touch with them. Now at the time I had also been working security at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. I remember showing a few of the firefighters from Engine 78 (across the street from Wrigley Field) my drawing. Instantly they were attracted to it, asking if they could also purchase one as well as but one to put in their firehouse. A week later, my American Pride drawing was hanging in Engine 78 house, as that was my very first donation.

The next few days to follow I reached out and contacted every firefighter from Crystal’s benefit and I made arrangements to donate drawings to all of their fire houses. Before I even knew it I was off and running. I decided to go to New York and donate to the fire houses surrounding Ground Zero. I had never been to New York, didn’t know anyone there, but felt compelled to go just the same. So my best friend Greg Pielli, a heart transplant recipient, and I drove to New York City on September 9th, 2003 with 15 pictures in hand to donate. Little did I know that was going to be the beginning of something very special to my heart. Now, 14 years and over 600 drawings later I am proud to say that I am still donating American Pride artwork to fire houses, military bases/installations, museums, foundations, and fundraising events.

I just continue to donate these to convey a simple message, never forget, never forget how the country united on September 12, 2001. I donate these in honor of remembering America’s heroes.

Don Bacso

Designation: Executive Director
Don Bacso is an accomplished IT executive with over 25 years of experience in business. Mr.Bacso was a frequent traveler as a business IT consultant from 2000 through 2009. One of these excursions would put him at World Trade Center Tower 1 on September 11, 2001. He was assigned an office location on the 57th floor of Tower 1.

As a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he provides his personal and chronological account of the activities, challenges and heart break of that fateful day. He has made it his duty as long as he is physically able to enlighten and educate his audiences about the bravery and patriotism of our first responders on that day. Mr. Bacso has been requested to speak in front of corporations, universities, high schools, civic organizations and well as military personnel.

Don is an alumnus of Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science specializing in Finance. He has served as a school board member for the Lake Central School Corporation for the past seven years, and was nominated President during the current year. In 2014, he received the Americanism Award from the American Legion which exemplifies community spirit and patriotism at the highest levels. Mr. Bacso is also on the 9/11 memorial advisory board for the town of Schererville, Indiana which successfully procured and installed a steel beam from the World Trade Center into the local town memorial.

Born and raised in Indiana, Don has a wife, Jennifer, and two sons, Nicholas and Bennett. He is a founding member of American Pride, Inc.


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