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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Author: Terry Ryan

Review: Cathie H.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a wonderful story of strength and courage in the face of serious adversity. It is a true story of the Ryan family from Defiance. Evelyn Ryan is the hero of the tale. She was the mother of ten children. Her husband Kelly Ryan was an alcoholic who drank away a good portion of his small salary. Evelyn supplemented the family income by entering jingle contest sponsored by US companies like Burma Shave, Dial Soap, and Dr. Pepper. During the 1950s it was a popular advertising technique to appeal to “housewives” to enter these contests. To the winners the companies offered cash prizes, cars, appliances, food items, just about any product imaginable. Evelyn kept a notebook on her ironing board and there she jotted down any ideas that came into her head. She would send in multiple entries using different forms of her own name as well as the names of family members. This was allowed by the rules and common among the serious contest participants. Then she would watch anxiously every day for the postman to bring news of what she might have won.

As a young woman, Evelyn Ryan had dreamed of being a writer. Marriage and ten kids put an end to that, but she was able to use her skills and her love of writing to compose poems and jingles that were winners. While many might have thought of this as a hobby, Evelyn definitely considered it to be a career. She took it very seriously. She had to.

The story of how she managed to provide for her family in this way is remarkable, but even more impressive is the ability she had to remain optimistic and cheerful, always determined to provide the best that was possible for her family. There were many struggles along the way. Poverty was always there to be fought. Her husband Kelly was often mean and abusive. He was selfish and resented her success even as he benefited from it. She was raising ten children with all the joy and sorrow that entails. Through it all, she remained positive and happy. She taught her family such valuable lessons about what really matters in life. Her optimistic outlook had a huge impact on her children.


This book was written by one of her daughters, Terry Ryan. Ms Ryan doesn’t write with rose-colored glasses on. She tells about the hard times as well as the good ones. She describes her alcoholic father and the fear they felt when he was drinking and the abuse they suffered at his hand. But he isn’t made out to be a monster. He comes across as a very real and troubled man who loves his family, but is overpowered by his addiction. She describes the poverty, but the reader can see how it wasn’t the defining factor of their lives. This book is a wonderful tribute to the mother who taught her children independence and integrity and the power of a loving family. It is a quick and easy book to read, but it makes an impact that is unexpected.

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