The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio written by Terry Ryan:
I'm knee-deep in the middle of last-minute holiday knitting, so I will try to give this book the full attention that it deserves, but if I end up forgetting some details to share or if my writing seems a bit rushed, there's my excuse. Six days, that's it! I'm in the weeds, as they say!
This book is very deserving of a long post full of praise, because it is simply great. And inspiring. Or, more accurately, Evelyn Ryan is great and inspiring.
Evelyn Ryan and her husband Kelly had 10 children. The first house they lived in together had only 2 bedrooms and no bathtub. They literally had to wash up in the kitchen sink. Kelly worked in a tool shop and Evelyn was a stay-at-home mom. The time that the story takes place is the 1950s, early 1960s. Money is very tight for the Ryan family. Evelyn, who has a natural talent with words, submits entries to contests for jingles and slogans for large companies. She is so talented that she ends up winning a great many of them and is able to help supplement her husband's income with her winnings. Thanks to a major award, she is able to help them move to a larger home.
Evelyn was also excellent at keeping notes about all of her entries and winnings, because her daughter Terry (the author) was able to relay great details in the book. On just about any given contest, we can learn which entries Evelyn submitted and which alias she used (she submitted multiple entries by tweaking her name just a bit, like adding her middle initial, for example).
But this book is far from being just a recording of all the contests and winnings from Evelyn Ryan's career as a contest winner. What makes this book so special is the determination and positive outlook that Evelyn always had, as well as Terry's wonderful stories and details of family life in a big family in the 1950s. Many of the stories she shares are humorous (the cat that can open doors as she pleases, or her little sister's roving eye patch). She also writes about more painful memories, such as her father's heavy drinking and growing resentment and hostility towards Evelyn. Evelyn rises above her hardships and is a true matriarch and beam of hope to her family.
One interesting aspect of the story is how Evelyn's prize winning sometimes (well, often) came just in the nick of time. Once, Kelly took out a second mortgage on their home, but didn't tell Evelyn. When the money was due back to the bank, he had spent it all, and the family was on the brink of losing their home (and not having anywhere to live). Evelyn won a major prize right around this time (beating over 250,000 other entrants), and was able to offer the bank proof of her earnings the very day before they were to be foreclosed. She saved their home just in time! What's more amazing, is that it is a true story!
Evelyn Ryan was a woman who sought out making a living doing something that she enjoyed - as someone who is also trying to lead a "creative" life, I find a great deal of inspiration in Evelyn's story. She is a very admirable person, and it is very clear how beloved she was by her children.
This is a wonderful book - it's a really great "feel good" story. There is also a movie based on this book, but I'm not sure that I want to see it. After reading the story of Evelyn Ryan, I don't think anything can top the real thing!