The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio Summary

Terry Ryan

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The title says it all: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised Ten Kids on Twenty-five Words or Less. The author’s mother, Evelyn Ryan, married to an irresponsible and sometimes abusive alcoholic, keeps house and hearth together for her ever-expanding family by winning jingle-writing contests. Such contests, intended to promote sales, abounded in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Grand prizes included cash, cars, travel, and shopping sprees, and Evelyn Ryan seemed to win every time the family was in need. When one of her sons lost his paper route after crashing his bicycle, she determined to win him a new bike from a Western Auto contest; in addition to the Western Flyer, she brought home a washer and dryer and enough cash for a down payment on a house. When her husband secretly took out a second mortgage and squandered the money, Evelyn Ryan reeled in the grand prize in a Dr. Pepper contest, saving the house and earning a trip to Switzerland in the process.

The “Prize Winner” of Defiance, Ohio, defies poverty, abuse, and convention. A remarkably capable woman, her determination inspires her children: most hold college degrees, two were signed as pitchers by the Detroit Tigers, and the author writes the cartoon T. O. Sylvester in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition to taking the reader into an extraordinary household, Ryan provides a fascinating look at the subculture of “Contesters” which flourished until contests of skill were replaced by random drawings in the 1960’s.