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Royal Neighbors of America Marks 125 Years, Stays Involved in Community

Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors of America is celebrating its 125th anniversary and the centennial of women’s suffrage in the U.S.

The anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s passage is on Tuesday, Aug. 18, while Women’s Equality Day, Wednesday, Aug. 26, represents the date when the amendment was officially signed.

Royal Neighbors of America Marks 125 Years, Stays Involved in Community

The cornerstone for the Royal Neighbors new Home Office in downtown Rock Island was laid in 1927. The iconic Art Deco building was completed in 1928 and built on land provided by the city.

Royal Neighbors also is proud of the fact it was among the first women-led insurers that supported suffrage when it was founded in 1895, 25 years before the women’s right to vote was ratified. The company’s early members were active in supporting the suffrage movement from its initial days through the signing of the 19th Amendment.

“These women were pioneers. They were heading urban households here in Rock Island and across the Midwest, away from the traditional family farms, while their husbands worked in industry,” Cynthia Tidwell, RNA’s president/CEO, said recently. “They banded together to provide emotional and social support to each other during those isolating and stressful times.”

“As one of the first and largest women-led life insurers in the U.S., our pioneering heritage of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with women is as relevant today as the day we were founded in 1895,” she said. “We were not only one of the first to recognize that a woman’s life was worthy of life insurance protection, but we did so 25 years before women had won the right to vote.”

“Our founders also believed women’s lives had financial worth and should be eligible for the protection provided by life insurance,” Tidwell said. “To this day, we have delivered on this promise for women and their families for generations. Given current statistics that show ‘breadwinning mothers’ make up about 40 percent of today’s U.S. households, this mission is just as important now as it was back in 1895. Perhaps more so.”

Royal Neighbors of America Marks 125 Years, Stays Involved in Community

The Beneficiary Department of Royal Neighbors in 1899 in the original office in Peoria, Ill.

In 1895, RNA was founded as a membership organization by nine pioneering women who recognized the need to insure the lives of women and children and the importance of localized philanthropy. Headquartered since 1928 in Rock Island (at 230 16th St.), with an operation in Mesa, Ariz., Royal Neighbors serves more than 215,000 members and has more than $1.1 billion in assets.

“Generally, neither women nor children were insurable more than 120 years ago. But Royal Neighbors changed that,” according to royalneighbors.org. “We’re not just about selling life insurance. As a member you will receive free and discounted services for things like prescriptions, legal services, and online shopping. We also offer grants such as our Nation of Neighbors Program and educational scholarships.

“And we will support your local community improvement projects. That’s where the name Royal Neighbors came from – combining ‘neighbor-helping-neighbor’ with ‘royal,’ signifying our founders’ belief in the nobility of the work they would do,” the site says.

RNA has expanded its national philanthropic reach through the years – supporting members from the days of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 to the Spanish influenza pandemic in 1918; from the Great Depression to World War II; and from the Great Recession to the current Covid-19 crisis.

“During periods of uncertainty, our strength and unity, rooted in the values of our founders, have seen us through to better days. Today is no different,” Tidwell said.

Royal Neighbors of America Marks 125 Years, Stays Involved in Community

As one of the first women-led insurers in the U.S., Royal Neighbors provided non-traditional career opportunities for women across all departments of the organization.

This year, Royal Neighbors and its members across the U.S. have mobilized to battle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the organization will invest approximately $500,000 to help fund not only local non-profits to better serve Quad-Citians but also its nationwide chapter system that makes a difference in communities across the U.S.

Many chapters have stepped up to serve during the current pandemic, providing care kits for frontline healthcare workers, sewing protective masks and gowns, and donating supplies and funds to local food pantries. Local Chapter 20032, in Rock Island, has already provided more than 500 hand-made masks to local organizations free of charge.

Throughout the year, the organization and its members have recognized the accomplishments of its visionary women leaders who built a thriving organization that offered life insurance and annuities to women and their families and created philanthropic and volunteering programs that continue to build strong communities even today.

“One hundred twenty-five years later, we continue to generate social good both here in the Quad-Cities and across America,” Tidwell said. “We are lifting up women, their families, and their communities along the way. We like to say that our successful business funds the mission. We are strong, thriving, and well-positioned to continue to meet our financial obligations to our membership and to support their efforts to drive positive change at a grassroots level. We are looking forward to another 125 years.”

Royal Neighbors of America Marks 125 Years, Stays Involved in Community

Cynthia Tidwell has been president/CEO since 2005.

 This spring, RNA won the small-company award for best video in the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s International Corporate Citizenship Film Festival.

Its film, less than three minutes long, highlights Living Proof Exhibit, one of 10 winners last year of a $10,000 grant from RNA’s “Nation of Neighbors” program.

“Our organization’s mission is to provide women and their families with needed life insurance and annuity products and to also make a difference in the communities where our members live,” Tidwell said last November in announcing the winners of $100,000 total Nation of Neighbors grants.

“Nation of Neighbors is our signature women’s empowerment program. It is built on the legacy of helping women who are doing extraordinary things within their communities make an even larger impact,” she said.

“Each of these grant recipients leads a unique organization that benefits her community. They are already making a profound difference and changing lives within their area of expertise with the work that they do, and our grant will help extend that reach even further.”

Nominated by members, agents, and chapter leaders, the nationwide recipients are leaders in their community and live the mission of Royal Neighbors. More than $2 million has been given since the program launched in 2007.

RNA also is a major sponsor of the Putnam Museum women’s suffrage exhibit, “Liberated Voices / Changed Lives.”

Royal Neighbors of America Marks 125 Years, Stays Involved in Community

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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