A Vintage Nerd Book Club: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

A Vintage Nerd, Vintage Blogger, Vintage Book Recommendations, Book Review, The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, Evelyn Ryan, Terry Ryan

Over the summer I read The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio and it truly changed my view of motherhood and the role I play in my household.

Terry Ryan who was the sixth of ten children born of Leo (nicknamed Kelly) and Evelyn Ryan, wrote this memoir of her life and that of her family, mainly of her mother Evelyn Ryan. Terry passed on in 2007 and I can tell you that after reading this book I forever grateful to her for writing this and getting it published. Terry was the write in her family, very much like her mother and my life became more enriched because I know the story about her mother Evelyn Ryan.

Some of you may have seen the film version of this book which came out in 2005. I think the film is fantastic and I saw it after I read the book which doesn't happen often for me but I enjoyed it. I liked being able to visualize a young Tuff (what the nicknamed Terry) and seeing the interaction between Kelly and Evelyn. The toughest part to watch was the sexism but that is also true for me when I watch Mad Men. I literally cringe in my skin...ugh.

Although I highly recommend the film version I feel as though the book will give you, the reader, a deeper insight into the life in the Ryan household.

Was Evelyn Ryan an extra special mother? Did she have super human powers to do dishes with her eyes or move a mop by wiggling her nose? Perhaps not. She was like every devoted mother....devoted. But that's the BIG word-DEVOTED. Not partly devoted when the mood suited them, not sort of there but not really there, and only there when it suited her own needs.

Many mothers are wonderful so what makes Evelyn Ryan different or in my view, extraordinary? She did everything that I mentioned with grace and dignity. She rarely ever complained or even went a little bonkers on her children. I mean, she didn't go bonkers? Is this woman real? Well, yes she was and as you find when you read this book that every time something threatened the welfare of her children she defied all the odds. She did so not by complaining about it but by getting very, very creative and using her talent for writing, her intelligence to enter into contests, and her gumption.
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Let's start from the beginning. Evelyn married Leo (Kelly) Ryan on November 26, 1936. Shortly after the eldest of the Ryan children, Lea Anne was born. Before they knew it their family grew leaps and bounds to include ten children!

It wasn't labeled as alcoholism then but Kelly was a heavy drinker and would very often spend his paycheck on alcohol which would in turn leave Evelyn in a bind. Evelyn was always keen on being a writer but life wouldn't work out the way she hoped but she did discover the wonderful world of contesting! Evelyn would often have a notebook at the edge of her ironing board and wrote down jingles as they would come to her. She used a few tricks that were acceptable in the contesting world during the 1950's and 1960's which was using multiple names to submit multiple jingles. For example, she would use every one of her children's names and also variations of her name and her husbands in order to enter as many as possible. She didn't know which could win so she figured the more chances the better. I mean other than stamps, what was a mother in a financial bind going to lose?

And getting her family out of binds is just what she did! She won food, appliances, cars, trips, bikes, and so many other things. She was never able to travel because she would have to sell the trips in order to ensure the children ate, were clothed, and did not end up homeless. Yes, it was THAT bad.

I mean, at the end of the day what wouldn't a mother do in order to provide for her children? And she did so with such a loving, giving, and truly happy spirit. I admire Evelyn for taking the high ground and finding a solution to her problems rather than complain about them. Every time I find myself on the verge of complaining I remember Evelyn and I remember how so many other mothers have it harder than me. That makes me stop, take a minute to breathe, and find myself a solution.

Evelyn helped all her children with everything she could help them with. Many went out to attend University and become professionals. Terry became a writer like her mother. Proof that sometimes it takes a generation or two before a dream can be fulfilled. And fulfilled it was. Evelyn's other dream of traveling did happen for her late in life, after Kelly's passing. As it so happened many of her children moved to various states throughout America. She traveled to visit each and every one of them. Again, sometimes dreams take a little longer for a dream to come true but it can come true.

Evelyn Ryan passed on at the age of 85 on August 29, 1998. Out of the ten Ryan children eight are still with us. Terry passed on in 2007 and her older brother Richard "Dick" Ryan passed on in 2008. He was the son who was in the bicycle accident that lead to his mother Evelyn to start to enter contests. Our children sure can inspire us to do the unthinkable, unimaginable, and the unbelievable.
And Evelyn did just that. Her children too are a testament to one mother's constant devotion, joyful view of life, and unconditional love.

I say thank you to Evelyn Ryan for teaching me the kind of mother I hope to be. And I say thank you to Terry Ryan for telling the story of her remarkable mother and for capturing the essence of what true motherhood entails. Its not about how much money you have, how many times you vacuum the house, or how good of a cook you are. It's about the time and care you spend with your children. That they can grow up knowing every little hair on their heads was adored and loved for always. Motherhood doesn't stop when they are grown, it doesn't end when they pass on or you do, it resonates in the lives of the children you raise and the children they raise.

Evelyn Ryan, you are my hero.

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  1. What a cool story! I had no idea about this movie. How interesting to win all these competitions and I bet she was just so proud to have successful children.

  2. This is such a heartwarming, inspiring, deeply beautiful tale and powerful reminder of the importance of family and what our love for ours can propel us to do. In some regards, as I was reading about Evelyn, I couldn't help but be reminded of my own mom, who often make great scarifies to ensure our basis needs were met.

    ♥ Jessica

  3. This was an amazing book! I should re-read it.....


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