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Remembering Nancy Evans

LU first lady leaves lasting legacy on family, community

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For many of us, what we knew about Nancy Evans, was that she was first lady of Lamar University. Then we knew she was sick. But Nancy Evans, who died after a long battle with cancer in early June, would not have wanted to be remembered for being sick. She was many things.

She was a person. 

“When we came here, she was very concerned about the role of being a president’s wife,” LU President Kenneth Evans said. “Nancy was very much her own person. She didn’t want to be defined by what I did. She wanted to be defined by what she did. That really manifested in a number of ways. Of course, we attended events together, but she didn’t want that to be how she defined herself. She wanted to identify areas where she could make her own meaningful contributions.”

She was a mother.

Nancy and Kenneth Evans have two sons, Paul and Brian.

“She raised two great guys,” Kenneth said. “Brian got married (Oct. 20) in Santa Fe, along the Pecos River, to a woman Nancy got to know and really like. So, that was kind of hard. It would have been much more special if she had gotten to be there, but we kind of knew that wasn’t going to be able to happen.”

She was a grandmother.

“She loved her grandchildren,” Kenneth said. “Ironically, Harvey was a blessing for her. She had gone up to Saint Louis to babysit our three grandchildren (Thomas, 5, and twins Peter and Marion, 2), and then got stuck there and couldn’t get back. She ended up spending roughly three weeks with them and it was really the last time she had had a meaningful opportunity to be with them before she passed away.”

She was a friend and partner.

“She was a great confidant,” Kenneth said. “It’s hard in this role to try new ideas out on people without being subject to the consequences. It’s always nice to have somebody who is reasonably objective. Someone who will tell you when an idea is really stupid and you don’t take offense at it — she could do that for me.

“We had an opportunity to be in a real partnership. She grew to really love LU. (She loved) our mission here helping highly talented students, but also first generation students and students who are challenged economically, to be able to access a college degree. We wanted to create an environment where we can make that possible.”

5She was an environmentalist.

“She began with the energy conservation initiative,” Kenneth said. “Well, she actually began with cleaning up the campus. The signs that are on all the trashcans to be attentive about putting your litter in the trashcans was her idea. She helped encourage people to participate in that. Then, that moved to the energy conservation and the signs that are on most of the switches in most of the buildings reminding people to turn the lights out.”

She was an art enthusiast.

“Nancy’s real passion was art,” Kenneth said. “When (the Reaud Building) was underway, the design had not been approved yet, but part of the Texas State University system mandate is that one percent of the cost of the building needs to be set aside for art. She put together a policy, a process, and a committee that included the chancellor, (art department chair) Donna Meeks, and a strong supporter of the community, Kim Steinhagen, to identify prominent Texas artists — artists who had a well-regarded reputation, had done numerous shows and had a demonstrated track record — to try to work with them to identify pieces that might be appropriate for some of the buildings.”

Kenneth Evans said that when the couple moved from Oklahoma, they met a Texas artist named Jesus Morales.

“Jesus did work with large granite structures, which are represented outside the Honors building in the three columns,” he said. “The trinity is meaningful because of its religious connotations — in his world, in our world — but it is not necessarily about religion. Three is a powerful metaphor in all literature. So, we had those pieces made for that spot. Then we secured another piece that was made available through the same guy that introduced us to Jesus for the CICE building. Then other pieces happened — paintings, photography. It created a real climate of public art on campus. When the Science and Technology building is done, it will also have four prominent public art pieces in it that were part of the work of this committee.”

Kenneth said Nancy’s passion for art

also manifested itself in the way the couple related to the community.

“We began to see more involvement by the community of Beaumont in art and in art related projects, it kind of began to extend beyond just simply the fine arts to the performing arts as well,” he said. “So that was a passion of Nancy’s.”

Kenneth Evans said Nancy was also passionate about helping students at Lamar succeed, and took special interest in women and philanthropy while she was here.

She was a creator.

Nancy helped create two significant events — Cardinal Conversations and the Women and Philanthropy organization.

“Cardinal Conversations are where two faculty members are brought in to talk about subjects that complement each other, in terms of the intellectual space they occupy, and it’s done in front of an audience of about 30-40 people in our house,” he said. “Then that lends itself to a Q&A, and the dynamics of the Q&A are often far more interesting, because now you are getting all these different perspectives being brought to the table.

“She also created the organization Women and Philanthropy. It was all about subjects that are particularly of interest to women, but it also tied into the reality that women typically outlive their male spouse if they end up getting married. The determination of how the wealth and estate is distributed falls on (the wife) and if she had not played a significant role in managing the finances of the household, which Nancy had for ours, then there is the consequence of being stuck with a difficult task that you don’t have a lot of familiarity with.4

“At these luncheons, I and Juan Zabala, vice president of university advancement, were the only two males in the room, the rest included over a 150 women. Sometimes at these events, we would bring in speakers, and we brought in two women who played a role in raising funds and managing the Big Thicket, so that became a big passion for her as well.”

Besides being her own person, a mother, grandmother, friend, environmentalist, art enthusiast, creator, spouse and partner, Nancy had one of the best personalities, President Evans said.

“Nancy was probably one of the most non-judgmental people you’d ever want to meet,” he said. “It really made no difference what kind of setting she was in, she was always comfortable in that environment. We could be in a room with a thousand people and she would just visit with people throughout the room.”

Nancy also believed that everyone had the right to be successful, and truly believed in LU’s mission to change lives, Kenneth Evans said.

“She wanted the school to learn the Alma Mater,” he said. “She was very passionate about that. Now, we are singing it at the end of ball games and we do it at the end of events. She just really thought that the notion of having some sense of the legacy of the university, and people being connected to the university’s brand, was important.

“She wanted people to be proud of the university, because there were a lot of reasons to be proud of it. Pride’s important and she was a proud person.”

A FAVORITE MEMORY:

“We did a lot of camping and hiking together — California, Colorado, here,” President Evans said. “She even braved going into the boundary waters with me one time for five days (between Minnesota and Canada). You’d canoe and portage between lakes, meaning you’d pick the boat out of the water and carry it into the next lake and put it in. She went with a bunch of Boy Scouts and she was such a trooper doing that.

“We were all fishing and she sat in the middle of the boat and read a novel. It was hysterical. But, she just really loved being with our boys and she’d do anything, even if that meant going into the boundary waters and schlepping, just so she could be with the guys and spend time with them.”

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP editor

Category: Features