Gerald "Jerry" D. Stephens
June 17, 1932 – August 20, 2018
Gerald “Jerry” D. Stephens, age 86, of Peoria, Illinois, passed away at his home on Monday, August 20, 2018. Jerry was born June 17, 1932, in Peoria, IL to Homer and Balsora (Ground) Stephens. He married Helen Davis on August 7, 1965. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Helen (Davis) Stephens, his children, Angie (Charlie) Larson of Hudson, WI, Jeff (Janet) Stephens of Morton, IL, Jenni (Chet) Krupiarz of Traverse City, MI, and Jo Stephens of Phoenix, AZ; grandchildren, Charles Larson, Ryan Larson, Andrew Stephens, Amanda Stephens, Brianna (Rolando) Hinzo, Bethany Krupiarz, and Cameron Krupiarz. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother, Glenn Stephens, sister, Melba Kuntz, and son, Douglas R. Stephens. Jerry graduated from Peoria High School in 1951 and University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1955. Jerry served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in the infantry during the Korean War. Jerry was the founder and retired chairman of the board of RLI Corp., a nationwide specialty property and casualty insurance company headquartered in Peoria, IL. From 1958-1969 he was vice-president of H.O. Stephens & Son Co., a family owned retail insurance agency. He founded Replacement Lens Inc. with Dr. Jerome Conlogue in 1961 and then founded RLI Corp. in 1965. In 1969, RLI common stock was first traded on NASDAQ. In 1975, RLI became Peoria’s first Employee Stock Ownership company, fulfilling his desire to make every employee a shareholder. In 1987, RLI common stock was moved to the NYSE. Jerry attributed RLI’s longtime success to the people of the organization and the philosophy of “the customer is king.” In 1996, RLI’s Vision Product Division merged with Hester Enterprises, the maker of Maui Jim sunglasses. Jerry was instrumental in bringing Maui Jim’s administrative headquarters to Peoria. In the 1990’s, Jerry wrote a “Message of the Week” to his employees, which focused on enhancing company success and helping employees live rich and fulfilled lives. These messages were published in a 475-page book given to each employee upon his retirement. Jerry retired from the RLI Board of Directors in May 2011, after 39 years as president and 11 years as chairman of the board. Jerry also dedicated his time and talent to many industry and community organizations. He was the past president of the national CPCU Society (Society of Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters), chairman of the American Institute Board, served 10 years on the board of the American Institute for CPCU, chairman of the honors committee of the board of the International Insurance Society, served 28 years on the advisory board at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, 12 years as a trustee for Bradley University, the Harry J. Loman Foundation, the Brady Advisory Board at The Brady Urological Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business Advisory Committee, and chairman of the board of Maui Jim, Inc. Jerry also served on the boards of Jefferson Bank and Trust Company, Bank One Peoria, Country Club of Peoria, Creve Coeur Club, Fayette Companies, and the Economic Development Council. Jerry received many recognitions throughout his life, including Distinguished Graduate Awards from Peoria High School, the named Gerald D. Stephens CPCU Chair in Risk Management and Insurance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, and the Gerald D. Stephens Chair at Bradley University which was endowed by RLI. He and his wife Helen established the Gerald D. & Helen M. Stephens Foundation, which has supported many organizations and causes. They created the Gerald and Helen Stephens Professorship in Wildlife endowment at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in memory of their son, Doug, who was a wildlife management student at the university. In 2008, their generosity led the OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria to dedicate its NICU as The Gerald D. and Helen M. Stephens Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Most recently they established the Gerald D. and Helen M. Stephens Directorship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Gerald D. and Helen M. Stephens Center for Stone Disease at the Brady Urological Institute, also at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Jerry enjoyed golf, attending University of Wisconsin football games, and spending time in Savannah, GA and Naples, FL. When once asked what legacy he wished to leave on this planet, Jerry responded: “I believe we are put on the earth to serve others. Our rewards in life are in direct proportion to the service we are able to provide. I would hope to be remembered as a servant of our family, our people at RLI, our customers and our community. Others may have done a better job than I, but I hope to be remembered as one who gave his all in the endeavor.” Visitation will be held on Friday, August 24, 2018 from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Davison-Fulton-Woolsey-Wilton Funeral Home, 2408 West Willow Knolls Drive in Peoria. A funeral service will also be at the funeral home on Saturday, August 25, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. with the Rev. Jack Thompson officiating. Burial will follow at Parkview Cemetery in Peoria. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions May be given to the Illinois CancerCare Foundation, 8940 North Wood Sage Road, Peoria, IL 61615
- Homer Stephens, Father
- Balsora (Ground) Stephens, Mother
- Helen (Davis) Stephens, Wife
- Angie (Charlie) Larson, Jeff (Janet) Stephens, Jenni (Chet) Krupiarz and Jo Stephens, Children
- Charles Larson, Ryan Larson, Andrew Stephens, Amanda Stephens, Brianna (Rolando) Hinzo, Bethany Krupiarz and Cameron Krupiarz, Grandchildren
- He was preceded in death by his parents, brother, Glenn Stephens, sister, Melba Kuntz, and son, Douglas R. Stephens.
Illinois CancerCare Foundation
8940 North Wood Sage Rd., Peoria, Illinois 61615
- Visitation Friday, August 24, 2018
- Funeral Service Saturday, August 25, 2018
Gerald "Jerry" D. Stephens
August 29, 2018
I have worked at the company that Mr. Stephens founded since 1995.. I can not say that I knew him personally. At least not very well.... But I can say that the culture that he created and the decisions that he made in the oversight of his company has positively impacted my life in ways that I can not adequately explain in any words.
Thank you Gerry- for being you - and thank you to your family for sharing you with the rest of the world so that you could make the positive imprint on it that you did.
Every day I look at the quote you embraced in the art displayed at RLI headquarters “Be the change you want to see in the world”.. I have no doubt you lived that quote . If someday I can be a tenth of what you are I would consider my life an abundant success..
August 28, 2018
Jerry was a hero of mine. Soft spoken, brilliant, modest, giving...a wonderful human being. I served with him on many committees and boards over the years...and enjoyed each such engagement. He did HUGE things in his life...founding a company, running a 25,000 person professional organization and all the other MANY tasks that he took on and succeeded at during his life time. I will miss him forever and wish his family well.
Maria (Fassino) Colgan
August 27, 2018
Dear Angie and family so sorry for the loss of your dad. I couldn't help but send you a note to also let you know I think of your brother Doug often. I can't tell you enough the great memories I have with him via fishing or snow skiing. Every Martin Luther King weekend we would go to Dubuque, get the cheapest hotel we could find and Pile in as many people as we could. We skied our brains out and your brother loved nothing better than to tease me for 36 hours straight. Doug will never be forgotten and there's always a smile on my face when I think of him praying for your family it's always hard sincerely Maria
August 27, 2018
Dear Helen & Family:
Jerry was truly a remarkable person in every way and will be sorely missed by all. None more so than his family and especially you, Helen, his life partner for more than 50 years. I pray that God will grant you a peace that surpasses understanding during this time of loss and grief.
I still recall with great fondness the Easterseals Tribute Dinner in honor of you and Jerry in 2011. Leading up to the Tribute, I received a personal copy of Jerry's book, "Message of the Week." It continues to occupy a prominent place in my office. Not only was the Tribute one of the most successful ever, it was one of the most enjoyable as well! I will always remember Jon Michael, Will Williams, Don Fites, Bob Klaus and a whole host of others recounting your many lifetime experiences and accomplishments. Not all of the stories ended up as part of the formal program but were certainly relished during the Cabinet meetings at Mt. Hawley Country Club! Notably, your Tribute provided Easterseals one of the earliest opportunities to bring greater awareness of Autism to the larger community and served as the catalyst for significant growth of Autism services.
May God bless you and your family.
With sympathy and warm personal regards,
August 26, 2018
I’ve always admired Jerry as an entrepreneurial visionary. His goal was simply to be the best in the industry, always providing ‘world class’ customer service to our client base. He often saw opportunities that were commonly overlooked by our competitors. Jerry led by example, always working long and hard throughout his career. One attribute that I often admired was his ability to listen. He was never too busy, always putting aside what he was doing, and listening intently. Jerry was a ‘winner’ in every sense of the word. His contrarian views often placed RLI in an enviable position. With Jerry’s leadership, RLI was on the leading edge of technology and vastly ahead of the competition in the industry we served.
I consider Jerry as one of the finest professionals that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with in my professional career. He was dedicated to continual improvement and held himself accountable for learning and enhancing the organization. A boss, mentor, and friend, Jerry was always eager for team members to realize success, profoundly impacting and financially enriching a host of lives over the years! He will always be remembered, revered, and never forgotten!
August 24, 2018
I was good friends with Jerry's late son Doug. Jerry was a great father and a great human being. He was brilliant, calm, and just a heck of a nice guy. You would never know just how incredibly successful he was and how many people he has helped by asking him as humility was also his strong suit. My condolences to Helen and the whole family, the world lost a good one.
August 24, 2018
I have had the pleasure of knowing Jerry for about 15 years and have always been impressed by his life story. His amazing efforts to build RLI and adapt its operations to the changing fortunes of time was remarkable. What seemed to set him apart from many other successful businessmen, however, was his unwavering love of family and community, his blend of pride and humility, and the fact that he never forgot his Midwestern roots. His philanthropy -- including the establishment of the first endowed chair in the history of my university (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) in memory of his son -- serves as a beacon for all that is good in our society. We have lost a wonderful human being, but through this we have all gained so much...
August 24, 2018
I reported direct to Jerry in 1989, 90 and 91 when I was the VP of National Accounts and Agency Marketing at RLI. I learned more in those 3 years then I could possibly explain. It was such a privilege to work with Jerry and for him.
George Schmid, CPCU
The Schmid Group, LLC
Someone who Jerry impacted for life.
August 23, 2018
Jerry is admired and known for his courage, outstanding achievements and noble qualities. He is a Hero. He took extraordinary interest in the adoption, implementation, and success of good causes, policies, projects and products. He actively pushed new concepts and ideas working through entrenched resistance and evangelizing them. He was a change advocate, change agent and idea champion. He is a Champion. Jerry was always thinking and planning the future with imagination and wisdom. He is a Visionary. Jerry demonstrated a readiness to give more than was necessary or expected. He is Generous. Jerry lives in all of us that knew him and his investment in each of us will carry his Outstanding Character and Legacy long into the future.
August 22, 2018
I will always remember, in the early days of RLI, flying in to Boston in the company airplane, with Jerry at the controls, and Bill Applegate in the copilot seat. Our approach was coming in over Boston Bay and the airstrip beginning only a short distance beyond the water's edge. The air was turbulent, but Jerry put the plane down with a very smooth landing. They were dropping me off to attend an optical meeting as an exhibitor, while they were proceeding on the a golfing event in Myrtle Beach, NC.
Over the course of years, I had the pleasure of flying, with me always as the passenger, with Jerry, who was an excellent pilot, as he was an excellent leader of our emerging company, and an overall great person. He will be sorely missed.