By TODD GOTTULA
KEARNEY – You won’t find the traditional turkey and ham for dinner at Ryan Teten’s home this Christmas.
“Maybe it’s the Midwest in us, but we typically go a different direction and opt for some big, thick-cut steaks instead. There will be homemade mashed potatoes and definitely green beans and sweet potato casserole,” said Teten, the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UNK.
“Pumpkin pie will probably find its way to the table, too. With Cool Whip for sure. We don’t use much caution when it comes to Cool Whip,” he added.
Like most families, food has always been a big part of the holiday celebration for the Tetens.
“For many years it was go to church on Christmas Eve. And afterward, as opposed to a big meal, our family liked to have a bunch of dips, salami, summer sausage and a spread of appetizers,” Teten said. “Then our kids would get to open one present we knew they’d enjoy that night.”
Ryan and his wife Tonya, their daughter Aiden and son Seth have celebrated Christmas many years with Ryan and Tonya’s parents in Arizona and North Carolina. This year, they’ll spend time in Kearney and Colorado.
“Christmas feels different now that our kids are grown. That sense of wonder is gone a bit,” Ryan said. “More recently, we’ve traded gifts for family trips and focused more on creating memories and having experiences. That’s been nice.”
We asked Teten a variety of questions about the holidays:
What is the most memorable gift you received as a kid?
In about second grade, there was a toy where you set cans up indoors on this fake fence. You’d shoot a little rifle that had a beam of light, which knocked the cans completely off the fence. I remember still being up at like 3 a.m. playing with that because it was so much fun.
Who is the hardest person in your family to buy for?
Definitely my kids. We used to be able to set out an action scene with Transformers fighting each other or Thomas the Tank Engine. They’d come down, and that just made their Christmas morning. But as they’ve gotten older the asks have grown along with the price of new technology.
What should Santa bring you this year?
A snowmobile. I broke a rib sledding a couple weeks ago. I was on a giant hill and stepped into a hole, fell forward, landed on something and broke a rib. Maybe a snowmobile could replace the sled and be safer. A snowmobile would fill that need for outdoor fun on the hill, minus the broken ribs.
What should Santa bring UNK?
More recognition about all the tremendous things happening on campus. The football program has taken off, the volleyball season was incredible, and all of our bachelor’s and master’s programs are flourishing. Santa can help spread the word about what a special place UNK is.
What is your favorite holiday movie?
I’ll take the classics like “A Christmas Story,” which I’ll watch every time it’s on. “Elf” is another one that’s always good. And then there is the slightly more risqué “The Ref” with Denis Leary. It’s a Christmas setting that reminds me of family get-togethers I’ve heard about and maybe lived through as well.
What is your favorite holiday song?
“Carol of the Bells” is one that always gets me, whether it is done a cappella or with the bells themselves. I really like the Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra versions. This season I’ve found that I’m going back a bit to Perry Como and Andy Williams, and those old-school performances of the classics. My family loves Christmas music. Basically, every time we walk into the kitchen, it’s “Hey Alexa, play Christmas music.”
What does your Christmas tree look like?
For the first time, we decided to go the whole traditional route and cut down a cedar from our backyard. It’s a 7- or 8-foot tree. My wife has always wanted a real tree, so we walked down into a gulley, cut it down together, put it on a sled and drug it back to the house Griswold style. It’s gorgeous with a lot of white lights.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
I do, I just rarely keep them. It’s pretty simple this year. Being new to UNK and Kearney, it’s just to remind myself to work hard and do the best job I can to take care of our faculty and students. I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I want to remind myself to not get lost in the weeds. There are so many great things going on at UNK that there is a tendency to get buried in the weeds if you’re not careful. I want to keep reminding myself we have incredible students, incredible faculty and incredible programs at an incredible university.