Remembering Ryan: Ryan Stroehlein lives on in the hearts of Enigma family, LGBTQ community

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ST. PETERSBURG | When news broke that Ryan Stroehlein had tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident July 11, shockwaves were felt throughout St. Petersburg’s LGBTQ community.

Some knew him well, and others just as a community ally with an infectious smile and uplifting demeanor; a young man standing behind the bar at local hotspot Enigma. But all agreed that he would be missed.

And he is.

“Ryan was one of the most genuine, caring and sweet individuals I’ve ever known,” Sarah Wilson, a former bartender at Enigma says. “He made it easy to love him, as many of us did, and had more integrity than most… you could always count on him in a bind.”

Wilson called Stroehlein “a protector of all and a quiet leader,” one who “never flinched at the thought of helping friends or a complete stranger. He’ll be missed so much by our community and especially by Enigma’s staff.”

Russell Sutherland, currently on staff at Enigma, agreed. “He was one of those people that come into your life that can never be replaced. One of the rare, genuinely selfless people that truly put the well being of others before his own.”

It’s a sentiment that patrons also share. “I remember when Ryan first started working at Enigma,” says Jayson Chancey. “He quickly became someone you could depend on to be smiling when you approached the bar. He was very genuine in conversations… He was a staple that we always looked forward to seeing.”

“He had a kind heart and frankly, a great aura about him,” he continued. “He genuinely cared about how we felt and what was happening in our lives. I remember in-depth conversations with him about life… It’s been odd not seeing his smile behind the bar. He is, and will continue to be, highly missed.”

Michael Ackeret, another of Enigma’s 19 staff members, noted that “when you work together so closely for so long, you become a family.” He said that that Stroehlein “didn’t have a bad bone in his body,” laughing as he recalled that they’d dubbed it the reason they became such good friends and co-workers. “We were such opposites.”

“He was always professional. Always polite,” Ackeret continued. “He always went above and beyond to make sure customers were happy and comfortable. Everyone loved Ryan… he was the kindest person I’ve ever met.”

Ed Gonzalez, Enigma’s owner who hired Stroehlein, reflected on the day they met, about three and a half years ago “when Enigma was nothing more than concrete and dirt inside.”

“I was waiting for a man with a large hand truck to arrive and help me move our ice machine into its permanent location. I was working in the back and the man was late. I periodically checked the front to make sure I didn’t miss him, and on one of those checks, Ryan was walking past the front of the building,” he recalled.

“He said hello and asked what I was doing with the space. We talked for a bit when the guy with the hand truck arrived. I had no idea how we were going to lift the huge motor on top of the ice bin, and Ryan insisted on helping. The rest is history.”

“Had Ryan walked by just 10 seconds earlier,” Gonzalez says, “or had I checked the front 10 seconds later, most of our community would’ve never even known him. It had to be destiny because I cannot imagine him as anything other than a part of our family.”

Gonzalez says he witnessed “a kid with a painful past blossom into a confident yet humble, amazing young man,” noting that “often life is cruel.”

“On that day,” however, he says “it was incredibly generous. Through many tears, I’ll be forever grateful for the gift life gave us that day.”

And for so many in the St. Petersburg LGBTQ community, that’s exactly what Ryan was: A gift.

One that the Enigma family, along with the Stroehleins, will honor in a “Celebration of Life” July 27, followed by a benefit show July 30.

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