RLI founder Gerald D. Stephens, 86, passes away

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Replacement Lens, Inc. (RLI) Corp. founder Gerald D. Stephens passed away on Monday in Peoria. 

Stephens, who was 86, founded RLI, a Peoria-based specialty insurance company, and served as company president for 39 years before retiring in 2011 as chairman of the board.

“All of us at RLI are deeply saddened by the loss of our founder and friend,” RLI Corp. Chairman & CEO Jonathan Michael said in a statement. “Jerry was a visionary leader whose passion for the specialty insurance business was inspirational to the thousands of employees, insurance producers, business partners and community partners his life touched during his more than 50 years in the insurance industry. He was also a dedicated philanthropist who cared deeply about his community.”

Stephens grew up in Peoria and graduated from Peoria High School in 1951. He received an undergraduate degree in Insurance from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1955.

After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army in Korea as a first lieutenant in the infantry before joining H.O. Stephens & Son, Co., a family-owned retail insurance agency in Peoria.

While working at his family’s insurance agency, Stephens figured out a new business opportunity to insure contact lenses, and in 1961, founded RLI to process the business.

Throughout 50 years, he helped guide the company through significant growth and change. 

RLI now offers many diverse, specialty insurance and surety products and has nearly 40 branch office locations throughout the country.

“Jerry built RLI on the foundation of great people, products and service,” Michael said. “We will honor his legacy by ensuring these core tenets remain a strong part of our business model. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Helen, and their entire family.”

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