2021 Awards

OIA’s annual Awards Dinner was held on the evening of Tuesday, December 7, 2021. After a hiatus of the prior year due to the pandemic, the room was eager to gather and celebrate the best and brightest of our industry. The award recognizes the Big “I” member who has gone above and beyond the call of service to truly make a lasting difference in their community 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
  • Aspires members and staff

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

Industry Person of the Year

Chris Cline, Westfield Insurance was named Industry Person of the Year. Chris has established himself as a sought thought leader in the insurance industry and independent agency system. He lives by the OIA Mission of being a “change agent driving agent change.” He is always pushing agents and the insurance industry to get out of our comfort zone, push for the advancement of our business model, and embrace change.

He has a passion for bettering the IA channel and that has been proven in many ways but most recently with the impact he has had with Westfield’s podcast, Closing the Gap. This podcast has been an excellent resource to independent agents because it highlights industry leaders, keeps agents in the loop on all industry trends, and provides them with advice on how to run successful agencies (and even gives them pointers on how to create their own successful podcast). He has covered so many valuable topics on the podcast, published over 150 episodes, and has been heard around the world sharing his insights for agents and insurance professionals.

In addition, Chris has led the way for Westfield in its Diversity & Inclusion efforts over the last couple of years. He has been a champion for recruiting a more diverse population into this industry and makes everyone feel welcome in the insurance industry.

We appreciate everything Chris does to elevate independent agents and strengthen the IA 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 Erie Insurance Company, headquartered in Erie, Pennsylvania, with the Eagle Award due to their consistent investments in developing new independent agents, strengthening their technology platforms to support their existing agency force, and improving their customer experience.

Thanks to Erie’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 Reuben Hall, Client Service Specialist at the Hylant Group. Ohio received three excellent nominations for this award.

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. Honorees may be chosen from any field and are not limited to those within the insurance industry.

Matt Simon, CoverLink, Bellefontaine was recognized and honored with this award. Matt often shares the story of how he was born into the insurance business, and at the early age of 5 would accompany his dad when he met with clients to discuss their insurance policies. Dressed in his suit and a clip-on tie and even a child-sized briefcase, he took his job very seriously, even if it was just delivering the agency’s annual calendar!

Matt continues to take his job seriously serving his clients and working with others to provide solutions for the challenges faced by independent agents. For these reasons and many more, Matt is very deserving of the Independence Bell Award.

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, CIC, CPCU, CRM, CSRM, Phelan Insurance Agency, Inc., Versailles

Brent helped lead the review of the first technology investment for OIA.  Serving on the review committee, he assisted in the selection of a firm to vet and report on the strength and viability of the investment. After the firm selection, the work-study processes began, with multiple meetings held to establish baselines and questions to culminate and share findings with the board for a decision and next steps. Then using this information to create a strategy and format guidelines for the Finance and Budget Committee to use for future investment reviews.

Brent is currently serving as the Board Vice-Chair and also chairs the Finance and Budget Committee. He is active in Advocacy and legislation to support the Independent Agency System. He has participated in multiple State and National events relaying to our Legislators, Senators, and Representatives, the importance of laws and regulations, and the effects and repercussions these can have on consumers and independent insurance agents.

Brent has shown his commitment to lifelong learning by attaining several insurance industry designations and volunteering as a leader for OIA. He is active in his community, engaged in the industry, and an advocate for independent agents.

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 two very deserving individuals.

The first is Jeannine Giesler, CISR, CPIA, who has been an incredible example of a servant leader since she joined the industry. She sets the example of grace and professionalism in everything she does.  She has represented the interests of Ohio agents at both the state level on the Board of Directors and at the National level. Her calm and steady voice has helped lead us through

  • The merger of the state organizations
  • Several national decisions including disaffiliation and participating in Trusted Choice
  • New investment decisions in areas to help independent agents
  • Several strategic planning sessions as our organization continues to evolve in order to meet the changing needs of our members.

As a female in this industry, she is the definition of grace while maintaining a strong and steady presence that is met with great admiration and respect by all.

The second recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award is Perk Reichley, Reichley Insurance Agency, Beavercreek. Perk will probably be most notably remembered for his work to develop a process for OIA’s strategic planning that can be used year after year, plan after plan. Perk has mentored and led leadership workgroups. He is a remarkably effective active listener. To listen with understanding means seeing the expressed idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view and sensing how it feels to the person. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Supportive in the perpetuation of the insurance industry he will make time to advise or counsel when called. If there is one thing that stands out about Perk, it is relationships. He believes that insurance is a promise and a trusted relationship that is to be nurtured and cared for even if it means going to help a client in the middle of the night. That’s what neighbors do. That’s what independent insurance agents do.

Congratulations to Jeannine Giesler and Perk Reichley!

Dan Fulwider Community Service Award

The Big I National Dan Fulwider Community Service award is named in memory of Dan Fulwider, an avid philanthropist and former government affairs coordinator and membership liaison for the Independent Insurance Agents of Iowa.

Mark Hunter, owner of Hunter-Willaims Insurance (Portsmouth) was recognized and awarded this honorable award. Mark and his wife Virgie started the Steven A Hunter Hope Fund to honor the memory of their son who passed away suddenly. Mark is a humble, selfless man whose dedication to helping the impoverished children of Southern Ohio has become legendary in his hometown of Portsmouth.

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 Jamie Wright of Wright/Dolbow Insurance in Newark and her work with The Starfish Assignment. Because of Jaime and her work, The Starfish Assignment will receive a $2,500 donation from OIA.

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, OAPAC donors, company representatives, insurance industry representatives.

Below are the 2021 award winners with their respective press releases that include the rationale for the nomination and recognition:

  1. Howie Barber, Ohio Mutual Insurance Group
  1. Mary Beth Sanford, Sedgwick (CompManagement) 
  1. Whitnee Dillard, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at IIABA, Alexandria, VA
Best Agency Video Award

The Best Agency Video Award was developed in 2019 to recognize an agency that excels in using video to explain the value of independent agents and tell the story of their agency.

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 2021 goes to Steele Insurance Associates, and when you view their video, you’ll understand why!






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