Ryan came to the community when he was in his early teen years. His
parents, Jim and Sue Ryan, moved the family to Lincoln from West
Frankfort in southern Illinois.
He finished his early education at Lincoln Junior High and
Lincoln Community High School, where he was very active in sports,
After high school he enrolled in a two-year program at Lincoln
College. When he completed his studies there, he married, went to
work for a local utility company and started raising his family.
According to Ryan, for the next 12 years, there really wasn't a
whole lot to say about his life, but then he reached a point where
he wanted to do something more than he was doing.
"I thought about the time I spent every day reading newspapers
and decided if I could devote that time to studying, I could go back
to college and get a higher degree," he said.
With that decision made, he enrolled at the University of
Illinois in Springfield and earned his degree in communications.
It was then that Ryan met John Blackburn, the CEO of Country
Financial. Ryan said that he was first impressed by Blackburn before
he even considered Country Financial.
"John Blackburn is a very honest, upright guy," he said.
Ryan's impression of Blackburn is what led him to become a
Country Financial representative, and he said that as he became
familiar with the company, he was also impressed with the honesty
and integrity of the insurance provider.
"The best compliment I can give them," Ryan said, "is that if I
ever left here (Country), I'd still leave my insurance with them.
That's just how much I trust them."
Ryan said that as a representative of the company, one of the
things that impresses him the most is that they do not issue
cookie-cutter policies. He said that when customers come in with
unusual circumstances, while other providers might turn them away,
Country will make every effort to customize a policy that will work
"They look at each situation on a one-on-one basis. Of course it
doesn't always work out, but I know they always try to give
potential customers what they need," he said.
Country Financial developed from an insurance company that was
started as a division of Farm Bureau in 1925.
Farm Bureau was founded in 1919 as a member-only farmers'
cooperative aimed at unifying small farms into one larger entity
with greater buying and selling power.
Farm Bureau formed Country Companies Insurance in 1925, first
offering crop insurance. In 1927 they added auto insurance and in
1929 they began selling life insurance.
The company remained an insurance-only operation until the 1970s.
Ryan said that the decision to go into financial services was at
least partially based of the fact that the banking industry had made
a move to go into insurance.
The financial services that Country now offers include retirement
planning, estate planning, investment management and annuities. Ryan
added that even though some insurance providers have also gotten
into lending, Country has opted not to offer that particular
For the first 10 years of his career with Country, Ryan occupied
a space in the Logan County Farm Bureau building at 120 N. McLean,
but in December he moved his business to a separate office at 509
Pulaski St., on the south side of Lincoln's downtown square.
Ryan said that he very much enjoyed the time he spent in the Farm
Bureau building, and now that he has moved, he misses getting to see
his friends in that building on a daily basis. But for him, the move
was a part of establishing his own identity.
"I wanted a business with my name on it, so people know when they
stop by that they are going to Joe Ryan's," he said.
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When the space on Pulaski became available, Ryan met with building
owner John Guzzardo.
"When I came in the first time, this building was really just a
shell, but John and some other people around town helped me out and
really made a great office space for us," Ryan said.
Right now, he and his staff are working to get the office
organized, have a place for everything and everything in its place.
As time goes by, he wants to add some customer comfort to the
office, such as coffee in the waiting area and other things that
will make clients feel more welcome and more at home when they stop
Ryan said that a part of his success is due to the staff that he
has with him. Lacey Groce has been with him four years and does a
terrific job. Monica Ritchhart is relatively new to the agency, but
Ryan said she has really taken to it and is doing very well.
Groce's title is service assistant, and Ritchhart is the office
assistant. Ryan said that as a producer, he finalizes all policies
written for the office, but both Groce and Ritchhart are licensed
and very well qualified to deal with customers, offer quotes and get
the ball rolling on new policies.
Ryan added, though, that he couldn't be thanking them for their
good work if it were not for another lady who really helped him out
in the beginning. Jean Oglesby was Ryan's first assistant and was
very familiar with Country when he came to the business.
"She really showed me the ropes and got me started," he said.
Ryan said that Oglesby is retired now, but he will always
appreciate all that she did to help him get started.
In addition to his career with Country Financial, Ryan has spent
the last 17 years as an assistant football coach at Lincoln
Community High School. He said it's a job he truly loves, and in
some ways it offers an escape from the worries of the day.
"When I'm on the field with the team, everything else leaves me,
and for those few hours, all I care about is the game," he said.
Ryan also enjoys and appreciates his family. He and wife
Michelle, who teaches at LCHS, are nearing the completion of raising
a family. Ryan's two oldest children, Marty and Emily, are grown and
on their own now. Son Andrew is a senior in college and son Garrett
is in junior high.
Joe also appreciates the time he spends with his parents and
noted that it was his mother and his sister, Bridgett Thomas, who
came in and did all of his Christmas decorating in the office this
In addition to family and basically two careers, Ryan is also
involved in the Knights of Columbus, Lincoln Rotary Club,
Lincoln/Logan Chamber of Commerce, Lincoln Elks Lodge, Eagles Lodge,
the YMCA board and has a deep appreciation for the downtown area.
"I really do love the downtown area," Ryan said. "In so many
towns, the downtown area is dying, and I don't want to see that
happen here. It's one of the reasons that I wanted my office right
here on the square."
While Ryan himself appeared to be somewhat modest about his life
and not so sure that anyone would find his story interesting, it is
precisely this kind of story of a hardworking, community-minded,
small-town business owner that makes Joe Ryan very deserving of
having the LDN Business Spotlight shine on him.
[By NILA SMITH]