Lessons From History: 25 Words or More on Resourcefulness
A woman who supported her family with ‘25 words or less’

Evelyn Ryan lived in a three-traffic-light town called Defiance. And she certainly defied all odds. Even with 10 children and an alcoholic husband, she managed to thrive in life. She had an exuberant, never-give-up attitude that improved the quality of her life 10 times over. But without one quality in particular, she would not have gotten nearly as far. That quality was resourcefulness. Her resourcefulness prevented her family from becoming homeless and hungry time and time again. Often, Evelyn participated in “25-words-or-less” limerick, poem, short story and jingle contests, sending in her ideas to companies that were looking for better slogans. If you had a stamp and a gift for writing, you could make big bucks in those post-World War ii contests. This housewife utilized her wit, wisdom and a generous helping of humor to support her family.

Evelyn Ryan worked tirelessly all day, cooking, cleaning, and attending to her 10 children. Then, after dinner, she would stand at the ironing board, in front of the tv, with a basket of clothes at her feet and pencil behind her ear, ready to write any worthwhile contest entry in her notebook.

Every word she wrote was to keep her family afloat. The home they were renting was about to be given to the landlord’s daughter, who had just gotten married. They were in dire need of a new home. Plus, her son, Dick, had lost his newspaper route due to a crash that had broken his left arm and his bicycle. So, Evelyn entered a 25-words-or-less Western Auto contest with a grand prize of a new bicycle, $5,000 (equivalent to $35,000 today), and a washer and a dryer. She wrote this winning sentence [italicized section was provided by Western Auto]:

I like the all-new “X-53 Super” Western Flyer Bicycle because “brand new ideas about safety, service, sleekness, combined with Western Flyer’s old reliable construction make “X-53 Super” stand-out in any bike rack!”

The prize could not have come at a more opportune time. She used that money for the down payment on their new house.

Six months after Mrs. Ryan won the dryer in the Western Auto contest, it broke. But, Evelyn Ryan would never let that get in the way of her duties. She found a way! The pilot light would not light by itself, and it was too far for any hand to reach. So every day, when she wanted to dry a load of laundry, she brought out two matches, a pair of scissors and a fan. She would hold one match between the blades of the scissors close to the pilot, and then she would light the other match so she could, in turn, light the match in the scissors. She used the fan to blow the flame carefully from the scissors to the pilot light. This is a classic example of her ingenuity.

At any random moment in the Ryan household, you could suddenly hear the sound of a monster from across the house. Immediately, every Ryan child would stop whatever he was doing and run to the kitchen to throw all the leftovers in the sink to feed the monster. It was no monster, though. It was the Old Unfaithful, or the Sleeping Giant—the garbage disposal that did what it pleased. Just as she did with the dryer, they all did with every other broken appliance—they found a way.

The peak of Evelyn’s contesting career was when she entered the “Name That Sandwich” contest sponsored by Beech-Nut Gum. She entered several, but she won with this jingle entry:

My Frisk-the-Frigidaire, Clean-the-Cupboards-Bare Sandwich

The prize was a sports car, a jukebox, and a trip to New York to be on the ”The Merv Griffin Show.” She sold both the sports car and the jukebox, and provided her family with enough money for food just as their cupboards were nearing empty.

Evelyn Ryan’s character never ceased to amaze her children. Her daughter Terry wrote that “Her delight in living, reflected in her poetry and contest entries, rose out of bed with her every day.” Once, when her husband was thoroughly intoxicated, he walked into the living room where Mrs. Ryan was sitting and said, “You know what your problem is, Mother? You’re too … happy.” She and all the kids burst out laughing and eventually he started laughing, too. She kept it together and used wisdom to keep her family together.

Evelyn Ryan used one of the seven laws of success for emergencies, and since her life was a constant emergency, she used it quite often. Resourcefulness, the law for emergencies, is law number five in the Seven Laws of Success by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, and Evelyn was an expert at keeping this law. When something in her life seemed impossible to overcome, like when there was no food in the cupboard, she sent in an entry for a contest to win just enough to fill it again. When an appliance broke, she stopped and thought about how to fix it rather than giving up on it. She always found a way. Even though all the odds seemed to be stacked against her, she somehow came out on top. She never let anyone get her down; she could turn each unpleasant situation into a pleasant one by using her resources.

In Mr. Armstrong’s autobiography, he used Psalm 37:25 to show how resourcefulness comes into practice. Psalm 37:25 says “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Mr. Armstrong commented: “No, honest people just never do beg!” Even though Evelyn often came nearly to the point where she needed to beg, she never had to. She always worked out solutions to solve her problems.

So when you seem to be beaten, or when the answer to your homework is not in the book, use the resources you do have. When you and your siblings cannot find a toy, make something to replace it—use your resources. When you have any problem, before you declare defeat, stop and think: Is there another way to get around this problem? Most times you will come out successful if you just use one tactic—resourcefulness!