Unless you’ve seen the movie The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, or read the book of the same title, it’s possible you may have absolutely no idea who Evelyn Ryan is, or her daughter Terry. I certainly didn’t.
When Lou, my supervisor, suggested I read this book, I had no idea what to expect. Lou enjoyed it immensely and could relate as she came from a family of ten children, just like in the story. But there’s another reason Lou recommended it. It has a lot… correction, it has everything to do with writing.
It’s a wonderful read; funny, sad, and sometimes almost maddening. It really moved and inspired me. I came home all excited and went to Terry Ryan’s website with the sincere intention to get in touch with her. I couldn’t wait to tell her I wanted to write a review of her book. My excitement totally deflated and quickly when I read Terry had passed away in 2007.
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is about is about an outstanding woman and her very large family. In this memoir,Terry Ryan tells of her mother, Evelyn Ryan, a contested who used her writing skills to supply several of her family’s needs. In Terry’s words, “her mother learned how to win.”
The story takes place in the 1950s and 1960s. With an alcoholic ‘man of the house’, the family struggled to make ends meet when Evelyn’s husband drank a good part of his paycheck. Evelyn kept the family afloat—at least temporarily—by winning many of these contests. How else could she raise ten children? These contests, and there were too many to count, were her way of contributing. But it went beyond that. Evelyn Ryan loved writing. She’d worked for a newspaper in her younger days and missed that very much.
Throughout the book, I asked myself how or where did she find the time to write while raising ten children, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. Terry describes how her mother stood at the ironing board, with a pen behind her ear, and iron in her hand. When an idea came to her, she jotted it down, and continued her task. She left her famous notebooks as a legacy to her children. Whether while cooking, ironing or just watching TV—a set she’d won—her notebook never left her side.
Jingles, poems, and 25-words-or-less, and limericks, Evelyn wrote them all and she wrote them well. She was clever, funny and witty. It didn’t matter which contest it was or what it offered. Regardless if it was from a cereal box, or the inside of a Dr Pepper bottle cap, and whether the prize was grocery shopping spree, small or major appliance, a car or a bike, cash, or something as simple as a box of candy bars, she entered them all.
Terry Ryan learned a great deal from her mother and it shows in her writing, which she tells in a funny, captivation and loving way. This book is for a wide audience, and YA as well as an older audience will enjoy it. I recommend it to everyone and give this book 5 stars.
My only wish in writing this post, is that, first, you will pick up the book and watch the movie. Second, should any of her children, as well as Dortha Schaefer and the “Affidasies” stumble upon this post, I must say, You Are So Fortunate to have had Evelyn and Terry Ryan in your life.
Blessings to everyone,