Premium humanitarians: Stan & Jody Reynolds honored for commitment to charities

Cinemas Features

In recognition of their extensive philanthropic work with Variety The Children’s Charity and other charitable organizations, the founder, president and CEO of insurance company Reynolds & Reynolds, Stan J. Reynolds, and his wife Jody will receive the Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award at the ShowEast convention in Florida. “I could talk on that for ten hours,” says Stan of Variety, the lucky beneficiary of the couple’s tireless fundraising efforts these past 40 years and more. Jody is more direct in her assessment of what has been a “great experience” for the two of them. “It was a lot of really emotional experiences, to see what’s done worldwide by Variety,” she says. Yet the couple always simply “just did it. Just did it.”

What the Reynoldses have done over the past several decades is raise a staggeringly admirable amount of funds for Variety, including $99 million from a telethon Stan helped found in the ’70s. The list of their respective credentials and distinguishing marks is lengthy: Stan has served as president of the Iowa chapter of Variety, international president of Variety, and chairman of the board. Past honors include the Variety Club Humanitarian Award and the Boy Scouts of America’s “Distinguished Iowa Citizen Award”; in 2011, he was inducted into the Iowa Insurance Hall of Fame. Jody has served as international ambassador, international fundraising chair and vice president of Variety. In 2001, she was elected the organization’s first female international president. All five of the Reynolds children are currently involved in Variety chapters or “tents” throughout the country, from L.A. to New York. Then, there are the numerous telethons and auctions outside of Variety for which Stan has emceed, and the period Jody spent assisting the International Red Cross in Vietnam during the war. In total, through the various charities and events the pair have supported, the Reynoldses have helped raise over $133 million.

Stan and Jody Reynolds are a power couple to put the Hollywood glitterati to shame. And yet, as Jody points out, their philanthropic trajectory has been less meteoric than “one of those things that happens step by step, baby step by baby step.”

Stan’s beginnings were those befitting a future telethon impresario. Having majored in speech and theatre at the University of Minnesota, he found his acting prospects limited by the amount of money he owed post-graduation. “I made more money driving a cab than being on television, so I went to work for the 3M Company [aka the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company],” he recalls. He was soon transferred to Des Moines, Iowa, “and I thought I was going to the end of the world,” he laughs. “But I tell you, I love it here now.”

In fact, it was the prospect of leaving Des Moines that prompted Stan to exit 3M after several years. “I was being transferred to Austin, Texas, which was a promotion, but I would have been four or five years in one city, then four or five years in another, and my family would never have any roots.” He chose to try his hand at insurance instead, a business that is notoriously “very frustrating” for newcomers. Luckily, fate intervened in the person of Steve Blank, a member of the prominent Blank family, which owned the Central States Theatres chain in Iowa. The two met through the breakfast club of which each was a member in the early 1970s, and Stan quoted the Blank family business in the hopes of securing the theatre chain as an account. Quite a bit was riding on Blank’s response: “I said, if I get this business, I’ll stay in the insurance business,” Stan recalls. If not, he would consider a return to 3M.

Happily for Stan and, unknowingly, all those associated with Variety, he did secure Central States Theatres. A second fortuitous encounter, with ShoWest co-founder Bob Selig at a NATO convention in Atlanta, resulted in yet more cinema business: Stan wrote the insurance for Pacific Theatres, which was “either the fifth or sixth-largest circuit” in the country. “And six months after that, I wrote the insurance for Mann Theatres, which at that time was the third-largest circuit in America.”

From there, theatre-insurance work “mushroomed”—at one time, he had 180 theatre clients across the country—until Stan began to feel as if “I needed to call my own plays.” When the insurance organization for which he worked refused to make the theatre business a separate company, Stan struck out on his own. “So I founded Reynolds & Reynolds on May 1 of 1976,” he remembers proudly. These days, although theatre insurance remains a prominent division within the Reynolds company, the organization also handles a number and variety of other businesses, from construction to transportation to the Iowa school board and bar associations.

As it turns out, Steve Blank did more than catalyze Stan’s successful insurance career. “They’re a very philanthropic family in Des Moines,” Jody says of the Blanks. Before initially agreeing to work with Stan, Jody recalls, “Steven said, ‘Stan, I’ll let you look at my business if you get involved in Variety.’”

Variety The Children’s Charity is an international organization dedicated to helping children in physical, mental and social need. Ever since Christmas Eve 1928, when a baby was found abandoned on the steps of a movie theatre owned by a founding member of what was then a social club for several show-business friends, Variety has been associated with the theatre industry. In Stan’s early days, however, the Iowa chapter was in dire straits. While attending an international conference in San Francisco, Stan and several others were summoned before a group of international officers, who threatened to pull the Iowa charter “because we weren’t raising any money,” says Stan. “We said, ‘Give us a chance.’ So they put us on probation for one year. And a few of us went to a seminar on how to put on a telethon.”

Stan laughs as he remembers, “Kind of like Mickey [Rooney] and Judy Garland… Said, we’re going to put on a show. And we were too dumb to know we couldn’t do it, and we did it. And we raised $151,000, and we were ecstatic.” He continues, “We just finished our 40th telethon, and we raised $4.1 million.”

Charitable work is something the couple views as its welcome duty. “It’s our philosophy you have to give back. Those that have been given much, much is expected. Great line that I love,” says Stan. Their understanding of a broader social responsibility is likewise supplemented by a very personal connection to Variety’s mission. Tragically, the couple’s third child was born with severe health issues, and passed away when she was 15 months old. Throughout their daughter’s infancy, Stan and Jody became well acquainted with the local children’s hospital, the Raymond Blank Memorial Children’s Hospital, named for the uncle of Steve Blank. “I had lots of time to walk around and see what was happening, and apprise services that were there for children: what was there, what was not there, etcetera,” says Jody of the hospital. “We were both very fragile after all that had happened in our family, emotionally fragile and very aware of needs in our community that were not being met by the medical community, for children.” They donated money they had received for their daughter’s memorial to the hospital, to be used to purchase rocking chairs. “So that was our first entry into acknowledging some of the needs that were there,” Jody explains. When Stan met with the international officers in San Francisco who wanted to pull the Iowa Variety charter, he offered as evidence of the chapter’s commitment its recent acquisition of a new charitable cause: the neo-natal unit at Blank Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Stan and Jody’s emotional fortitude is reflected in their ensuing, and continuing, philanthropic accomplishments. Although Jody laughingly admits she was “scared to death” (“Well, I really wasn’t…I was and I wasn’t”) upon being elected Variety’s first female international president, it was a role she grew to love. “I think any time a woman is the first, it’s a little rougher. And then…once they get used to you, they’re really very accommodating, have great largesse, but when you first start, it takes a few little steps. But I loved the job.”

“She’s got a great heart. She’s a marvelous speaker,” Stan says, listing which of her qualities make his wife a strong leader. When Jody was with the American Red Cross during the Vietnam War, “she used to get up in front of 8, 9,000 troops, and obviously, you have to think on your feet. But Jody is well-organized, she’s a hard worker,” not to mention intellectually curious: A history buff, Jody enjoys enrolling in college history courses.

It seems the two have passed on several of their commendable traits to their children as well. Their eldest son, Stan Jr., who also happens to be president of the movie theatre division at Reynolds & Reynolds (see below), has served as president of Variety of Iowa and president of Variety of the United States; he is currently chairman of the board of Variety of the United States and an international vice president. Stan Jr.’s sister Katherine volunteers with Variety in New York City, his sister Suzanne was president of the Chicago tent, sister Erin has been involved with Variety out in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and brother Brooks helped found the Young Variety chapter in Iowa, the largest in the world. (Brooks also runs the famous Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, a major Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin and even Icelandic event.) “Living in our house, you just did it,” Jody says of volunteerism. The kids “just did it. That’s what we did.”

And continue to do, through 46–or is it 47?–years of marriage. “Six children and I don’t know how many years I’ve been married,” Jody laughs, “46 or 7?” Stan speaks with a greater degree of certainty. “She’s never lost a fight,” he says of his wife. “Undefeated in the ring.”

Keeping It in the Family: Stan W. Reynolds

“I always kind of knew I’d end up back in the business,” says Stan W. Reynolds of his father’s insurance company, Reynolds & Reynolds Inc. He explains, “We wanted to keep it in the family.”

During his 15-year tenure as president of the movie-theatre division, Reynolds has helped streamline the safety brochure the company offers its cinema clients. Recently, he was involved in the production of a new Spanish version of this brochure, which covers topics including liability losses and medical emergencies. “We understand what happens soup-to-nuts for insurance and movie theatres,” he says. “These safety programs are written exclusively for [theatres], because it’s such a unique business.”

A business that has experienced several shakeups over the past few years. The 2012 shooting in a Colorado movie theatre “made the general liability market tougher to write,” Reynolds admits. “[Higher-limits] rates have sometimes quadrupled because of Aurora. It’s not like it’s going to go into those limits, it’s just the uncertainty of how to handle these claims. There’s no real precedent in servicing them.”

The effects of alcohol consumption in theatres, as more and more obtain liquor licenses, seem more certain. “Fifteen years ago, if you would have said that a movie theatre was going to start selling alcohol, my underwriters would have thrown a conniption fit,” Reynolds laughs. “Now it’s no big deal. Believe it or not, alcohol sales are still relatively low. People aren’t going to a movie theatre to get hammered. They’re having a glass or two of wine, or they’re having one or two beers. Because they’re more interested in the movie… So that’s not a big deal.”

Reynolds’ grasp of theatre trends and their impact on the insurance business is not only informed by years of experience, but a formative early period that was an exercise in trial-by-fire. “He really didn’t talk to me for two years,” Reynolds remembers of his father and boss. “For two years, I couldn’t rely on him. I had to rely on myself. But I have to tell you, those two years were the toughest times of my life, but also the best for my career here, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

His hard work has paid off in other, indelible ways. Thanks to his close working contact with the film industry, “I have hung out with movie stars and been to premieres,” says Reynolds. “For a kid from Iowa, that’s kind of fun, you know?”

Yet for every photo with a celeb like Roger Daltrey, and for every experience like chauffeuring Stevie Wonder about for the day, the current chairman of the board of Variety of the United States maintains perspective. Like his “tough but fair” father and his “beautiful, strong” mother, it is Reynolds’ philanthropic work of which he is most proud. “I can go out to all the fancy dinners I want in the world, but knowing that I saved a kid’s life, I think, what better reward is that than anything in the world?’”

Salutes to Stan & Jody Reynolds

Randy Smith, Senior VP, Chief Administrative Officer & Counsel, Regal Entertainment Group:
“I have known Stan and Jody for approximately 16 years and at no time have their efforts to service our industry ever faulted or diminished. Their company reflects their personal way of life: ever dedicated to serving the needs of their clients, their employees and children in need. Since I came to Regal we have worked with the same group of individuals that make up the Reynolds team and it is clear that the company is truly family-oriented. Shortly after meeting Stan and Jody, they introduced me to Variety-The Children’s Charity and the never-ending need to work towards enriching and improving the lives of underprivileged and special-needs children. Stan and Jody have dedicated most of their lives towards helping children around the world, and through their mentoring I have been privileged to be engaged in that endeavor. I can think of few other individuals more deserving of the Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award than Stan and Jody. Congratulations!”

Ronald D. Pearson, Chairman Emeritus & Former CEO, Hy-Vee Food Stores, Inc.:
“Stan and Jody Reynolds have spent more time working on charitable endeavors than anyone in the state of Iowa—maybe in the USA. As proof of this, they were both presented the “Iowa Star Award” in recognition of their many contributions through the local, state and international community.

I have been a longtime friend of both Stan and Jody. Having run Iowa’s largest corporation for 20 years, I would see first-hand their involvement in all charities.

They started an insurance business in 1976, which is now the largest independent insurance agency in Iowa. They raised five great children and have seven grandchildren.

Stan was the founder and longtime producer of the Variety telethon starting in 1975. Both Stan and Jody, over the last 40 years, helped raise almost $100 million through the telethon. Stan and Jody both do public speaking to lead causes, fundraising and community involvement.

As a friend, I’m very proud of them. They lead by example.”