DENNIS “DENNY” RYDBERG ’67, died May 16, 2019, after losing his battle with melanoma. The SPU 2000 Alumnus of the Year was 74 years old.
President of Young Life from 1993 to 2016, Rydberg explained his “BHAG” — Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal — to Response in Winter 2000, saying: “Things have changed for kids. We didn’t have guns when we were kids, and the temptations of sex and drugs are more intense today. You can go on the internet now and get porn. It’s a tougher time, but I’m not an alarmist. There are still great kids out there, and I’m not wringing my hands.”
Instead of handwringing, Rydberg used his abilities to organize, motivate, and build relationships. During his 23-year tenure at Young Life, the ministry expanded from serving in 25 countries to serving in 101 countries, reaching millions of youth in middle school, high school, and college. Young Life, in a statement following Rydberg’s passing, wrote: “… he helped the mission grow at unprecedented rates in every major ministry category.”
“It’s a tougher time, but I’m not an alarmist. There are still great kids out there, and I’m not wringing my hands.” —Denny Rydberg
The son of a junior high principal, Rydberg grew up in Anacortes, Washington. When he arrived at Seattle Pacific College, he quickly put his natural skills in action while earning a degree in psychology. He captained the tennis team and played freshman basketball and intramurals. By his junior year, he was a residence life coordinator on campus while commuting twice a week to Tacoma to work as a youth director at First Presbyterian Church. He also co-wrote an often-satirical column, “The Fugitives,” for the student newspaper, The Falcon, once encouraging an all-school prank day.
With the Vietnam War in full gear, Rydberg was drafted after graduation, but when the Air Force lost his papers, he was released from service. He moved to California and became the director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church, San Diego. Rydberg also worked for Youth Specialties, an organization that created materials for church youth workers, and he wrote for Youth Specialities’ satirical creation The Wittenberg Door, which the Los Angeles Times called “Mad Magazine of Christendom” and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer called “an outrageous gadfly magazine to unsettle the pious.” At The Wittenberg Door, Rydberg interviewed such notables as Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, and Fred Rogers.
Rydberg wrote numerous books over the years, including Creative Bible Studies for Young Adults, How to Survive in College, and Youth Group Trust Builders.
Rydberg was Young Life’s longest-serving president, serving from 1993-2016.
By the mid-1980s, Rydberg was back in the Northwest as director of university ministries at Seattle’s University Presbyterian Church. He shared the position with his wife, MARILYN HENDERSON RYDBERG ’68, who was once the national women’s coordinator for Campus Crusade for Christ. At UPC for nearly a decade, Rydberg was offered the presidency of Young Life in 1993. Rydberg was the organization’s longest-serving president when he retired in 2016 due to the cancer.
Rydberg is survived by his wife of 39 years, Marilyn, their two sons, a daughter and son from his first marriage, nine grandchildren, and his brother, LON RYDBERG ’72.
Books by Denny Rydberg