THE KORDZIEL FAMILY with President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter.
THE KORDZIEL FAMILY with President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter.
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Some teenagers spend summers at beaches or amusement parks, but Ryan Kordziel prefers visiting dead presidents.

"To me it's an ideal vacation," said the graduating senior at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady, who turns 18 next week. "A lot of people my age would be saying, 'That's lame.' But I have a passion."

After realizing New York State was home to several presidential sites, the self-proclaimed "history nerd" made it his mission to visit every presidential grave, memorial, former burial site, birthplace, home and museum in the country. He and his father have been on that quest for six years.

Though he hopes to one day become a New York Yankees baseball announcer, Ryan is well-suited for his other aspiration of teaching history or English. A parishioner of St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Schenectady, he'll attend Hudson Valley Community College in Troy in the fall.

Ryan has a website chronicling his travels, which include 15 graves or tombs, four homes and a cenotaph. He's visited sites in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Back to school
For years, Ryan's alma mater, St. Madeleine Sophie School, has invited him to speak to classes of fifth-graders, who hang on his every word and often use him as a resource for projects. The students ask a lot of questions about secession, old political parties, impeachment, what happens when a president dies and more.

"If it's a history-related question, I can probably answer it," Ryan said. "It makes me feel good. It's really nice when you can spark an interest in students, when they're into what you're saying. You can see the look on their face when the knowledge sticks or when they can make a connection with today."

Ryan gets excited about his visits because it's "living history.

"I find it really cool how well [sites] have been preserved," he said. "It's cool to be able to stand in that room and realize that there was a president here."

Peanut president
On the way home from a vacation in Florida in 2012, Ryan's family drove three hours out of their way to Plains, Ga., to attend a Sunday school class taught by former President Jimmy Carter at Maranatha Baptist Church. The Kordziels had the opportunity to meet the president and his wife, Rosalynn, after the service.

"I think I muttered, 'It's an honor to meet you, sir,'" said Ryan, who was star-struck and nervous about the armed Secret Service agents stationed around the church. "I didn't want to make any sudden movements and tried not to act like a weirdo."

President Carter talked about Ryan's favorite parable - the sower and the seed - and took photographs with church-goers after.

"That was just an experience I'll never forget," Ryan said, adding that his classmates are supportive when he gushes about his trips, even if they can't always relate: "A lot of them don't even know who Jimmy Carter is - and if they know who he is, they didn't know he was alive."

Online presence
Ryan's website gets more traffic than he expected. He likes to write about his experiences there - "Sometimes I lose track of all the things I've been to" - and compile fun facts on former presidents.

"You've got to let history be the judge," he said, explaining why he hasn't posted many thoughts on Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush yet. "I just find it amazing how time has evolved the images of these people."

Ryan values his faith. "I always know that God is there and I can go to a Mass and feel better," he said. He already knows he wants to raise his children Catholic and even send them to Catholic schools. The small environment and opportunities for religious expression at ND-BG, his new alma mater, made an impact on him.

"Everybody knows each other," he said. "It's like a family. People notice immediately when you're out sick. Everyone cares and will pray for you."