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Our Founder Donald L Evans

Donald Leroy Evans, founder of D. L. Evans Company, was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1933. He was raised in a working class neighborhood on the east side of the city where most of the industrial businesses were located. From the lifestyles of Don's family and neighbors, he learned the value and expectation of hard work. The definition of hard work was different in the mid 20th century on the east side of Madison than what the phrase would mean today. In those days, hard work often meant physically demanding jobs that lasted 12 or more hours per day. By the time Don was a teenager, he had already developed a reputation as being able to handle the toughest of jobs - not the jobs typically done by teenagers, but the types of jobs reserved for only the most hardcore laborers. These included farm work, construction work, deliveries and production.

Like many people of that era on the east side of Madison, Don somehow found time to excel at his passion, football. With leather helmets, no faceguards and only minimal padding, Don and his east side buddies played tackle football in the local parks, preparing for the day they would play for East High School. When that time came, Don and his teammates were already veterans of the game, and they rarely lost. As Don used to explain, it wasn't about east side kids being better athletes than the kids from the schools they routinely beat, it was about attitude. Playing football in the hot August sun or freezing November winds was a pleasant break from the 12 and 14 hour work days these kids were used to putting in. As Don told it, teeth knocked out in the course of a game or practice were viewed as medals of Honor. Compared to the scars picked up from work on the farms, or the wounds suffered by older siblings and others in World War II, the aches and pains of football were not worthy of complaint.

Following four very successful years of academics and athletics at Madison East High School, Don applied to and was accepted by the University of Wisconsin - Madison, his home town school. Like his neighborhood and extended family, Don was very loyal to his schools. As quoted in a Wisconsin State Journal feature article on him, Don explained: "The same people lived on the same street I grew up on for 30 and 40 years. They were employed for their working lives at one company. Although the educational level was low, the intelligence level was high. Their sacrifices to establish good schools and support a great university were paramount. They knew it was possible to go from kindergarten to a Ph.D. without leaving home."

At U.W. Don was recruited by the football team, where he played on the offensive line with a number of his East High classmates and some of the best athletes from around the state of Wisconsin. Among those was Alan Ameche, Wisconsin's first Heisman Trophy winner. As recounted in the Wisconsin State Journal article, Don had fond memories of, "tackling the 'Horse' in practice." "I remember once the coach yelling at me to 'tackle him' as Ameche went plowing through the line with me wrapped around his legs, dragging me along. I yelled back, 'I am, I am, I am,'" Evans said with a good laugh.

Like many of his colleagues in the early 1950's, Don was extremely patriotic. When Eisenhower and MacArthur called upon young men to support their country against the spreading threat of communism in the Far East, Don heeded the call. In 1953 he left the university and volunteered for the Army. As intended, he was trained and sent to Korea, where he served as a gunnery sergeant with the 31st Infantry Regiment, fighting against the enemy in the Korean War. Like many men, Don's experience in the Korean theater of war was to have a significant, lasting impact on his philosophies and attitude about life.

Thus, when Don returned to UW in 1955, football became only a nagging dream and studies took the forefront. Deciding to expand upon many of the skills he had begun to develop during his hard working childhood, he enrolled in UW's Construction Administration program, which he described as a hybrid of civil engineering, business administration and architectural design. He proudly graduated from the University with a degree in Construction Administration.

His first big job was with the valuation staff for American Appraisal Company in Milwaukee, where he worked on appraisals of lands to be acquired for interstate highways in Wisconsin and 12 other states. Although the work was not physically hard, it was demanding in many other respects. In addition to an intense travel schedule, the job involved meetings with a broad spectrum of people involved in the acquisition of land by the government for public highways. Everyone from local officials to distraught farmers whose livelihood was, in their eyes, being stolen by the government, to businessmen to engineers and lawyers -- all had their shot at Don. He also learned to appreciate the differences in cultures exhibited by people hailing from different parts of the country. Even if the topic were the same, the method of communication had to be modified to earn the respect of the person Don was interviewing. As Don used to explain, a farmer in Kentucky is not going to give you the time of day if you address him in an aggressive manner. Conversely, the lawyer from New York is not going to give you any of his time if you are not able to handle his aggressive manner of communication.

In 1963 Don went back to UW and received his master's degree. He was one of the initial graduates (known by future grads of the program as "The Magnificent Seven") of a curriculum in Real Estate Appraisal and Investment Analysis, created by UW Professor Richard Ratcliff and Clem Schwingle of American Appraisal Company. As Don recalled it, the initial intent of the program was a joining of academia and industry. After graduation, Don and one of his classmates from the program formed the Evans Appraisal and Real Estate Company.

Evans went on to work in both appraisal and real estate and along with partners like builder Don Simon, was responsible for significant housing and other construction projects in the local area, in particular on the east side of Madison and neighboring communities like Sun Prairie.

Like many entrepreneurs who create a business that becomes successful, Don remained close to his company and its staff after retiring in the mid 1990's. The phrase "of counsel" is the perfect way to describe how Don supported his company after his retirement. He made himself available on a daily basis, often taking his former staff out to lunch and insisting on paying the bill. He never missed the opportunity to send a kind note to his former employees and his extended network of family and friends. Until his death in 2000, Don remained amazingly accessible to any and all that would seek his counsel - for business advice, personal matters, or predictions of how his Badgers would fare in their next game

Don held many real estate honors through the years, including being the youngest president of the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers, the hallmark organization of appraisers. He also won most real-estate appraisal awards out there. His involvement in real estate education aptly fits the motto proffered by friend and former UW real estate and urban economics professor James Graaskamp, who once said, "Real Estate should be taught as a process of dynamic interactions, rather than functional and historical facts. The result should be a real estate entrepreneur with the creativity of Leonardo da Vinci, the sensitivity for the natural world of John Muir and political humanity with cash management for profit of James Rouse."

Don combined his expertise in real estate with education, serving as a co-founder of the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association. He served on a number of education-related boards and organizations. He was on the first board of trustees of the UW Research Park, serving as vice-president with Donna Shalala, then chancellor of UW. He was president of the organization when he resigned in 1993. He also served as chairman of the Real Estate Committee on the board of directors of the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

In addition to the field of real estate and the gridiron, Don's interests included collections of art, coins and war memorabilia. As a good friend of artists Owen Gromme and Aaron Bohrod, he had many of their originals in collections throughout the years, some of which he donated to charities. He gave his Norman Rockwell painting, "The President's Wife" to the Center for Western Studies at Augusta College in South Dakota.

The legacy that Donald L. Evans left with his passing in 2000 is proudly and respectfully carried on by those who work at the company that bears his name.

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