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Published: Sunday, 9/18/2005

Defiance hopes film, like its subject, is a winner

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DEFIANCE The shade trees lining Washington Street seem to point into the past, to an era when families had lots of kids and mothers mostly stayed at home with them.

Look at how small these houses are, Pat Walter says as she drives past the frame houses that shaped the landscape of her childhood in the 1950s. But there were more than a hundred kids in this neighborhood.

Among them was her great friend, Terry Ryan, one of 10 children of Evelyn and Kelly Ryan.

The family lived in one of the many modest homes on the street, just 20 yards from a railroad overpass that remains active and loud to this day.

With little money to feed and clothe her children, Evelyn Ryan turned to entering contests to make ends meet. Terry Ryan chronicled her mother s struggles, and triumphs, in her 2001 book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. The book s film version, starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson as Evelyn and Kelly Ryan, is set for general release Sept. 30 and Defiance can t wait for this blast from the past that might just help secure the city s future.

Downtown Defiance is lined with shops as it was in the 1950s. Now, the city can boast about being the focus of a movie.
Downtown Defiance is lined with shops as it was in the 1950s. Now, the city can boast about being the focus of a movie.
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We are excited, Mayor Bob Armstrong says.

I m just sure people are going to love it, says Ms. Walter, a member of the Greater Defiance Area Tourism and Visitors Bureau board.

It has perked up everyone s interest, says Eric Hench, president and chief executive officer of Chief Supermarkets, calling it the biggest thing to happen in town since President Dwight Eisenhower visited in 1953.

We can t wait, says Carol Maag, manager of the Northtowne Mall. It s about Defiance. But it s also good that back then there was a woman who was able to succeed in the business world and raise a family.

Ms. Ryan expects folks to enjoy the film, which she has seen twice.

It was filmed in Ontario [Canada], but it so resembles Defiance of the 1950s, she says. It was a perfect choice.

Director Jane Anderson s eye for detail impressed her too.

The house at 801 Washington St., in the foreground, was the residence of the Ryan family during the 1950s.
The house at 801 Washington St., in the foreground, was the residence of the Ryan family during the 1950s.
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Everything was authentic, Ms. Ryan says. The house, the linoleum, the little gewgaws they were real. It s just terrific.

Various businesses and the tourism board plan tie-ins with the film.

A special advance showing, which has sold out, will take place tomorrow at the Regal Cinemas. Tickets were available only by buying a sponsorship, which cost $500, $1,000, or $2,000, with proceeds paying for the event and helping establish a Defiance College scholarship.

The DreamWorks movie opens nationally and locally Sept. 30. In Defiance, a gala is planned for Oct. 9 at the Northtowne Mall. Ms. Ryan and other family members plan to attend the gala, which will feature props and costumes from the movie, plus contest memorabilia from the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.

Additionally, Chief Supermarket will hold a 90-second shopping spree Oct. 1, with the winner s name to be drawn Sept. 25. The spree will re-create an event from the book.

It s a natural, since she had the spree at Chief many years ago, to sort of do a re-enactment of that, Mr. Hench says. They re fun. I m looking forward to it.

First Federal Bank will sponsor a jingle-writing contest. A Prize Winner tea also may be in the works.

A poster promoting the movie is on display at the theater in Northtowne Mall in Defiance.
A poster promoting the movie is on display at the theater in Northtowne Mall in Defiance.
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Clearly, this is more than just a movie to this city of nearly 16,500, just as the book proved after its release four years ago.

It put us on the map, Ms. Walter says. Terry Ryan s book made the pages of the New York Times, she says, and inspired CBS television to do a segment on Defiance.

The book made its way into local classrooms, with a couple of English teachers using it, she says. And practically everyone seemed to read it.

The hometown people just ate it up, Ms. Walter says. I have yet to find a person who doesn t like it.

It even sparked some tourism.

People did stop in wanting to know about the Ryans, Ms. Walter says. We have a map and are revamping it for the gala.

Jacki Sandys knows plenty about those tourists.

Her husband, Daniel, and she own 801 Washington, the house in which the Ryans lived.

Last fall, I was walking outside with some cupcakes and there s a big RV sitting there with a lady wanting to take pictures, she recalls. You get people driving by slow, [saying] Is this the house?

But she is philosophical about the curiosity seekers.

I would do it too, she says.

She read the book I loved it! when they moved in three years ago.

It was, like, dead on, she says. And from what she has seen of the movie trailer, the film will be too.

One scene shows a closet in which Mrs. Ryan kept gifts. I looked over at the closet and thought, That s exactly like it!

But the public s affection for the house and its past has had a down side as well.

The Ryans, after winning a bicycle contest and $5,000, included, back row, father Kelly, Rog, and Bub, and, from left, Lea Anne, Bruce, Barb, Dick, mother Evelyn, Betsy (on lap), Terry, and Mike. Brother Dave was born eight months later. The Ryans, after winning a bicycle contest and $5,000, included, back row, father Kelly, Rog, and Bub, and, from left, Lea Anne, Bruce, Barb, Dick, mother Evelyn, Betsy (on lap), Terry, and Mike. Brother Dave was born eight months later.
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Every time I do something to the house, I feel a little guilty, she admits, mentioning a new shower and new exterior shutters as two examples. (Ms. Ryan, however, says she applauds alterations to the house. It would only improve things! I m glad she put the shower in. )

Around town, folks have only begun to dream of the future impact.

For us, there are several different aspects, says Cindy Mack, the newly hired director of the tourism bureau. From a tourism point directly, we re putting together brochures that have sights to see from the movie.

There s the possibility of bringing in bus trips, she adds. Hopefully, people will look and consider industry here.

It s name recognition, she continues, warming to the subject.

Those types of things are the kind of things that if you can continue to repeat them, with this movie and the name of our town it s that We will persevere attitude that we have as a community. Give us a challenge, we ll find a way to step up to it.

As for Ms. Ryan, she simply hopes the film will bring the town together.

I wrote [the book] for Defiance, and all the Defiance people that I know and love, she says. And all the mothers who rarely get credit for all the miracles they pulled off in the 50s, just as a matter of course.

But before all those dreams can come true, there is a movie to see. Mrs. Sandys, for one, will be there.

I can t wait, she says, standing on the stoop where Terry Ryan and Pat Walter used to sneak cigarettes. I m just so proud.

Contact Vanessa Winans at:vwinans@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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