By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 03, 2024 at 4:31 PM

A version of this article ran in 2020. It was updated with new information today.

Some of us like to read or knit or shoot hoops, but Greg Ryan's favorite hobby is giving away free snow blowers. And lawn mowers.

"I enjoy fixing things. I can fix a broken snow blower and give it away to somebody who might not be able to afford it. It makes both of us happy at the same time," says Ryan. "Also, I keep it out of the landfill."

Ryan, who lives in Riverwest for part of the year, is a retired electrical engineer who worked for Boeing in Seattle, Wash. and as the president of local internet company, ExecPC. After retirement, he took a part-time job at Bliffert Hardware where he specialized in tool and small engine repair. 

During this time, he noticed how many people preferred to get new machines rather than repair an old one. He also noticed how many people couldn't afford to own a snow blower, and bought shovels from the hardware store instead.

"I started thinking, 'what if I begin advertising that I'll take the old, broken machines and repair them at my expense and then find a new home for them with somebody who may not be able to afford it?'" says Ryan, who eventually started a small side business, "Greg's Small Engines."

About eight years ago, Ryan started advertising on Facebook and Next Door and in a short period of time, the concept – which he calls "The Good Neighbor Donation Program" – was a success. People are eager to donate their old machines and, of course, Ryan has no problem giving away the fixed appliances for free.

"I've developed somewhat of a following and people started giving me their old machines or alerting me to a disposed machine at the curb," says Ryan.

Ryan gives away about 50 lawn mowers and 50 snow blowers per season.

After fixing an old blower or mower, Ryan advertises again on social media to find a new home for his machine.

"I randomly select a new recipient. When our dog, Lafayette, was still with us he'd sometimes help me do this," says Ryan. "It's not a tax deduction or anything and I don't check to see if somebody really deserves it or not. It's the honor system that I'm giving it to a good home."

Ryan says he will, however, give priority if they plan to mow or snow blow their neighbors' yards, too. 

"I really don't vet the recipients very hard because I'm so busy fixing them and then giving them away," says Ryan. "I'm kind of just hoping that humanity is going to take care of who receives them."

Ryan's good deeds have connected him to interesting people he wouldn't have otherwise met. 

"I get to meet such a wide range of people on this job. Every occupation from a Rabbi in Sherman Park to a church photographer in Shorewood to a restaurant owner in Riverwest and an MATC English teacher on the North Side," says Ryan. "I've met lots of cool dogs, too."

Sometimes people ask if they can watch Ryan repair the machines.

"My customers watch me do my thing, and it's OK as long as there are not too many questions," says Ryan. "We both learn a thing or two in the process. We find out what makes each other tick."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.