2023 Awards

OIA’s annual Awards Dinner was held on the evening of Wednesday, December 6, 2023. The award ceremony recognizes OIA members and partners who have gone above and beyond the call of service to truly make a lasting difference in their community, and our industry, over the past year.  

The OIA Governance Committee is responsible for nominating candidates, making sure our policies and procedures are in order and selecting award winners. It is not an easy task for them. Each year, countless award nominations are received in each category. From those nominations, the committee must determine which candidate best fits the criteria for the award. Sometimes they determine there are two candidates equally deserving and two awards are given. When you hear why they were chosen, you will be amazed by the things they are doing for the industry, their communities, and our association.

OIA awards recognize independent agents and companies by:

  • Setting them apart from their competitors
  • Positioning them as leaders in Ohio’s insurance industry
  • Instilling pride in our members
  • Spotlighting our members’ capabilities and achievements
  • Reminds members and Ohio communities of OIA members’ commitment to excellence
  • Generates positive media coverage for Ohio independent agents
  • Inspires members and staff

We are privileged to have the honor of recognizing them below:

Independence Bell Award/Industry Person of the Year

The Independence Bell Award honors an individual who has significantly contributed to the betterment of the independent agency system and/or OIA. 

This year, OIA awarded the Independence Bell Award to Judith French, Director at the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Judy French was appointed to serve as the Superintendent of the Ohio Department of Insurance in January 2021 and since that time has been a steady steward of Ohio’s insurance industry. Director French has ensured Ohio has a good balance between the rules that ensure consumer protection and not being overly cumbersome to the agents and companies that provide insurance services.

Director French established a strong relationship with OIA and the agent community. She meets with us frequently, has visited an agency (with more visits scheduled) and is always open to considering our requests. She also was a prominent guest at our Advocacy Day this year and spoke with the agents in attendance.

Specifically, Director French has worked with OIA on several initiatives related to modernizing the current regulatory structure for agents, including:

  • Reducing agent appointment fees by 33%
  • Modernizing Ohio’s rebating and inducement laws
  • Updating Ohio’s continuing education standards – reducing the polling requirements from 2 to 3 and modifying the distance learning requirements to make it more accommodating for virtual education delivery.
  • Considering revisions to the agent appointment process
  • Engaged with OIA Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.

In addition to her service as Director of ODI, Judy also served for 10 years on the Ohio Supreme Court. She consistently exhibited a judicial philosophy of restraint, deference to the legislature on policy matters and strict constructionist. OIAPAC supported her campaign in both elections on the bench.

For these reasons and more, we were pleased to present Judy with the Independence Bell Award for elevating independent agents and strengthening the independent agency system! 

Outstanding Company Achievement/Eagle Award

The Eagle Award honors a company that has demonstrated outstanding achievement and superior performance in a specific area such as leadership, innovation, technology, perpetuation, and/or customer service for the betterment of the independent agency system.

OIA presented Western Reserve Group, headquartered in Wooster, Ohio, with the Eagle Award.

Founded in 1859, Western Reserve Group is a mutual insurance company headquartered in Wooster. Western Reserve Group is dedicated and committed to its independent agency partners and distributes their products exclusively through independent insurance agents. Since its founding, Western Reserve Group has grown to the Top 24 P&C insurance company in Ohio and has enjoyed growth rates of over 3% the past 10 years through strengthening its partnership with its independent agent distribution force. The company maintains a A (Excellent) rating by A.M. Best Company.

Western Reserve’s “mission is to fulfill promises made to our policyholders by providing comprehensive insurance through partnerships with independent insurance agents, while providing an excellent customer experience backed by secure business practices and a strong capital position”. Western Reserve’s belief that “an independent insurance agent can take a personal interest in the buyer of insurance, devote adequate time to determining insurance needs, and match those needs with the best insurance coverage available at a competitive price” is very similar to the OIA’s mission statement.

Western Reserve has actively participated with OIA in our advocacy efforts with transforming the complexion and judicial philosophy of the Ohio Supreme Court. In addition, Western Reserve acts in a transparent and partnership manner when considering changes and updates to its agency agreements. In the latest proposed changes, Western Reserve disclosed all proposed changes during the notification period, with detailed explanations and a partnership commitment.

Thanks to Western Reserve’s commitment to growing the independent agency system.

Outstanding Customer Service Representative of the Year

The Outstanding CSR of the Year award® is open to any insurance customer service representative or an insurance professional primarily responsible for customer service.  The prestigious award was established in 1991 and is sponsored by The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. It recognizes insurance customer service representatives who are exceptional at what they do; those who stand apart for their leadership capabilities and the consistently high quality of service they deliver.

Upon receipt of entry materials, nominees are entered in state-level competition. Winners at this level become eligible for the national award—an honor that carries national recognition in industry trade publications along with a $2,000 cash award, a $1,000 cash award for your nominator, a gold and diamond pin, and a scholarship for your employer to any National Alliance program.

Nomination submissions must include the entry form, two letters of recommendation from professional references, and a 500 to 1000-word essay on the topic of:  “Given changes in technology, the consolidation of agencies and societal influences, discusses four ways your clients’ expectations have changed in the last 5 years and the two most important changes you expect to see in customer service in the next 5 years?”


This year’s award winner is Nicole Perry, Commercial Account Manager at UIS Insurance in Tiffin, Ohio.

Nicole joined the UIS team in 2003 and started as a non-customer facing processor working on agency issued and billed policies. She quickly grew out of that position and became a licensed insurance professional serving as a Personal Lines Agent. Nicole serviced current policyholders as well as quoted and issued new business working with many producers in the agency. Throughout the 10 years in this role, her work ethic, efficiency and attention to detail became apparent. She also exhibited a desire to learn, to continually be challenged and a willingness to assist others. During this time, she also attained her CISR designation. Because of the growth of her insurance knowledge and skill working with clients and company underwriters, it was a logical next step for her to advance to a Commercial Account Manager position within the agency.

Nicole achieved this award because she is an Outstanding CSR who cares for her clients, assists in the growth of her agency and works tirelessly promoting professionalism and development in our industry and throughout her UIS team members.

Public Service Award

Public Service Award honors an individual who is making outstanding contributions and whose accomplishments are models of
exemplary public service in their community.

This year, the award goes to Ellie Platt, Owner, of Platt Insurance Agency in Youngstown, Ohio. Ellie was unable to make the awards ceremony, so Amelia
D’Angelo Galvolas, Operations Coordinator at Platt Insurance, who nominated Ellie, accepted the award on Ellie’s behalf.

As a dedicated resident of Youngstown, Ohio, Ellie has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others through her selfless acts of service and outstanding contributions to the community.

Ellie Platt is the Agency Owner at Platt Insurance serving the Mahoning Valley for over 12 years. Ellie’s commitment to her community extends beyond her business endeavors. She has served on the board of directors for OH WOW! Children’s Center for nine years, contributing to the advancement and education of Science and Technology in the young minds of children in the valley. Additionally, Ellie holds the position of Treasurer for the Rotary Club of Youngstown, where she actively participates in community service initiatives.

Ellie is also a proud founder and board member of the Downtown Youngstown Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to the ongoing economic development of Downtown Youngstown. Her expertise and knowledge in the fields of insurance, marketing, and entrepreneurship have led her to speak nationally on these topics, sharing her insights and empowering others, including being a strong advocate for women in business.

Excellence in Leadership

The Excellence in Leadership Award honors an OIA volunteer who has provided outstanding leadership and service to the association in the preceding year. This year the award goes to Brent Phelan, Owner, Phelan Insurance Agency of Versailles, Ohio and Jonathan Theders, Chairman and Chief Growth Officer, RiskSOURCE Clark-Theders of Cincinnati, Ohio.

It is no secret that service of any nature takes time, energy and passion. The time, energy and passion could be spent other places but our board members have made the choice to volunteer their time, talent and treasure to advancing the cause of the independent agency system through OIA. We are so incredibly grateful for their commitment to strengthening our profession and organization. The legacy of leadership they leave behind for the next generation is one of dignity and honor. Based on the strength of the OIA and new volunteer leaders we know that you all left big footprints in the OIA foundation.

Lifetime Achievement Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award honors an individual for their outstanding leadership contributions to the association, the independent agency system, and the community. Body of work and longevity are taken into consideration. Nominees may be retired. The award may be given posthumously.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Grady Campbell, Executive Vice President, Senior Advisor to President and CEO, of Encova Insurance in Columbus, OH.

Grady Campbell is a veteran of the Ohio insurance industry. He has served as a senior leader with Grange and Encova insurance companies throughout his career and has established himself as a proud proponent and friend of independent insurance agents. After a long and distinguished career, Grady is retiring.

Grady has focused on developing deep relationships with his agency distribution partners throughout his career. He has served on a number of OIA/PIA and Big I National Committees – including Company Relations, Trusted Choice and many others. He has advocated for investments in OIA and Big I organizations to better support the growth and development of the IA system. Grady also gives back by helping develop future talent for the insurance industry through his leadership with Ohio Dominican University and their RMI program.

Grady is the epitome of a “company partner” with OIA and independent insurance agents. His service to the insurance industry and IA system have helped advance this honorable and noble profession.

Jeanie Giesler Culture Catalyst Award

Jeanie Giesler Culture Catalyst Award honors an independent insurance agency employee who serves as the gateway to internal and external audiences to raise awareness and tell the story of the value of an independent agent.

The Jeanie Giesler Culture Catalyst was awarded to Courtney Sauvie, Chief of Staff, of Payne & Brown Insurance in Sunbury, OH.

Courtney has been in the insurance industry since 2012, with all her time and experience coming from working at Payne & Brown Insurance. 

She was born and raised in Sunbury, Ohio. As the youngest of four, she established life skills on the farm. Growing up she was heavily involved in livestock and horse showing. She learned immeasurable values and ethics that she implements in her career to this day. Courtney is proud of her small-town roots. 

What makes Courtney an excellent candidate for the Jeanie Giesler Culture Catalyst award is that she is a role model and sets an example for others to follow. Courtney takes the time to listen, grow and to work closely with everyone in the agency.  She removes barriers and inspires incredible performance from those around her. Courtney has the innate ability to learn and listen. She is a natural leader.   

In seven years after starting at Payne & Brown, Courtney grew from no knowledge of the insurance industry to Chief of Staff. She brings the Payne & Brown culture to life. She relays our agency’s message to all customers, “We care about you as a customer, and we want to take care of your assets.” As an employee, Courtney believes that we are insurance advisors, and not order takers. She is proud of the insurance profession. 

Community Service Award

Honors an independent insurance agent or agency that has provided extraordinary service within their local community defined by:

  1. Overall contribution (funds raised, people helped, volunteerism, etc.) to their community service project and/or initiative, and the positive impact (both short-term and long-term) that their efforts have made toward their community service project.
  2. Demonstration of commitment to their communities by going above and beyond in volunteering time and enthusiasm to causes close to their heart.

This year we awarded Sylvia Garrett of Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency and Dan Coonfare of Dan Coonfare Agency .

From the inception of Sylvia A. Garrett & Associates Agency LLC, its commitment to the community has been unwavering. The agency s social action statement has been consistent to return a minimum of 10 percent of its profits to the community.

Over the past 10 years, the company and its carrier partners have reinvested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Central Ohio community.

This commitment is evidenced in the company s passion for positive change as it works alongside its community partners. In the last 24 months, led by President and CEO Sylvia Garrett, SAG has sponsored or contributed to:

  • The graduation of Women s Transition Class at Dress for Success, in which women who mentored with professionals for over 12
    months worked to transition from economically challenged environments
  • Spiceteria, an online gathering of women of taste community that supports empowering women

Dan Coonfare and his family created the Angel Open Golf Outing in 2000 after losing his stepmother and cousin to cancer. Over the past 20 years, they have raised and donated over $675,000 to cancer research. There are approximately 200 golfers that attend the event.

Congratulations to Sylvia and Dan!

OIA Citations

OIA recognition of others who have made contributions to the association. For example Committee or Task Force chairmen or members who have made a significant contribution, OAPA donors, company representatives, insurance industry representatives.

We have two Citation award winners. The first goes to Dean Fadel, President and CEO of The Ohio Insurance Institute in Columbus, OH  

Dean Fadel is the “dean” of the Ohio insurance industry on Capitol Square. Dean has served the Ohio Insurance Institute for 30 years and during that time has been a fierce advocate for the betterment of the insurance industry, insurance consumers and insurance companies.

It is safe to say, that in the past 3 decades, no individual has had a great impact on the laws and regulations that govern the Ohio insurance industry than Dean Fadel. Dean is widely regarded as a walking historian and champion for the insurance industry. His knowledge and passion for commonsense rules and regulations is evident in his advocacy efforts. Dean has been involved in 4 different tort reform legislative enactments, countless insurance modernization efforts and brought together a broad based coalition of business groups to form the Ohio Alliance For Civil Justice which has been influential in changing the philosophical balance of the Ohio Supreme Court.

In addition, Dean led the formation of Insuring Ohio’s Future, a coalition of insurance organizations focused on recruiting the next generation of insurance professionals in Ohio.

While Dean represents a broad constituency of insurance companies that leverage multiple methods of distributing their product, Dean has always brought a collaborative spirit to engagement with the OIA. We have been treated as an equal partner in various legislative, regulatory, industry and political initiatives. Dean has taught several classes for OIA on a variety of topics.

Dean is very deserving of this honor and recognition.

The next OIA Citation Award Winner goes to James Putnam, Posthumously, formerly of Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, OH.

James worked for Nationwide Insurance and Motorists Mutual Insurance before starting Putnam Insurance Agency in Clintonville, OH. He began a scratch agency in 1957 and was actively writing insurance in the agency until April 2022. He was a Certified Insurance Counselor, obtaining his designation with the first class awarded that title in Ohio.

He was a Professional Insurance Agent of Ohio (PIA) and an OIA Member for his entire career. I met him at an OIA meeting in German Village; he was highly knowledgeable and a lifetime learner of the insurance industry. He was a regular volunteer in the Insurance Industry and his Community.

Over the course of his career, he provided guidance and mentored many. He left a positive impression on everyone he met as a true student of the industry and consummate insurance professional!

Best Agency Video Award


The criteria for judging are that the video is creative, captivating, and memorable.  The winner receives a $250 gift card from Best Buy.

The Best Agency Video Award for 2023 goes to Brooker Insurance Agency, and when you view their video, you’ll understand why!

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