One sign at a time, Pennsylvania veteran makes the world a better place
BEDFORD, Pennsylvania -- The first time I saw Ryan Decker a few weeks ago, he was standing on the corner of the Lincoln Highway and South Richard Street holding an oversized homemade sign that read, "BEEF JERKY COSTS TOO MUCH." I thought to myself, "You know, he's not wrong."
His next sign was along the berm of U.S. 30, a four-lane highway. It read, "STOP DRIVING SLOW IN THE PASSING LANE." Once again, not wrong, and funny. A few days later, he was standing in front of the local Weiss supermarket with a sign that read, "YOUR MASK GOES OVER YOUR NOSE TOO."
On Tuesday, he was in the center of this Bedford County town, at first sharing ice cream with his dog, Bubba, on a bench in front of Bedford Candies and then, this time, around the corner on South Richard Street, feeding himself what looked like a bowl of healthy veggies. There is no sign this time; he doesn't need one. Decker is as joyful and as funny as his signs.
And it is all for a purpose.
Thirty-two-year-old Decker, a nearby Everett native, is an Air Force veteran who served six years as a survival equipment specialist. He says it is all about spreading a little humor and fun. "I'm really disappointed with the way people are these days," he said. "You can't have differing opinions and not set aside your differences and actually talk about them. So, I decided to make light of everything that was happening in a way that would make people be able to laugh."
The striking young man is wearing cutoff jeans, a pink shirt with birdhouses, a bandana and cowboy boots, and is sporting a mullet, an eclectic combination that somehow works with his warm personality. Several locals pass, offering robust hellos and how-you-doings.
Decker was on a bench with Bubba outside of Last Line, the veteran's charity he started last year dedicated to helping the area's servicemen and servicewomen suffering from PTSD, something Decker himself has struggled with. "I have fought those demons," he said. "At one point, I was on suicide watch at the VA, so I wanted to help those who need that relief from the stress and anxiety and depression."
"When you leave the military," he said, "you go from a common purpose and being part of something bigger than your own lives. When you come back, our society doesn't always adhere to those values, and you feel isolated, lost."
The Last Line apparel he sells in the storefront goes toward building tiny homes at which veterans and their families can stay on his family's 250-acre farm in Fulton County.
But it is his signs and his social media posts with which he gets to spread his joy and hopefully inspire aspiration in his fellow man. "I just decided to do life my own way," he said. "And people really responded to the signs the way I wanted them to, with laughter, and maybe rethink how we treat each other."