Updated: May 4, 2013 6:11AM
“If you ever go to Houston, boy, you’d better walk right.
And you better not gamble, and you better night fight.”
— Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter
Jerry Evans, 72, has been married to Mattie for 47 years; they’ve raised three children and live in Schererville.
Evans was executive director of the Institute for Career Development based out of the Twin Towers (south) in Merrillville. He retired March 31.
You possess a slight accent.
“I was born in Houston and lived in Texas the first 50 years of my life,” he said. “I remember making a snowman once or twice as a kid, but not very often.”
What did your father do for a living?
“He was a painting and building contractor when Houston was really booming in the ‘70s. At one time, he drove a truck for Coca-Cola.”
“He lost his job because he tried to organize a union.”
“I graduated from Sam Houston High School, but that school has been shut down because the area got so bad.”
“I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and earned my master’s degree from the University of Houston. I started out as a teacher, then became an elementary school principal.”
You eventually moved on to adult education.
“Yes, as a contractor with the AFL-CIO, I was sent to Budapest the year the Berlin Wall came down. They wanted me to participate in the re-education of the work force in Hungary. We established learning centers; I worked with an international team as an educator.”
How long were you in Hungary?
“About three years. That was an interesting time with the wall coming down and all of the democratic institutions being established. I returned to the United States and worked in Washington, D.C., for about a year. Then this job opened up in ‘95.”
Tell me about the Institute for Career Development.
“Our board is made up of both management and labor officials. We have 70 units in 24 different states, but most of our units are concentrated in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.”
You see to it that union employees can further their education so they can possibly move up the ladder of the company they work for?
“Not only that, if their jobs disappear, they have something to fall back on.
The fella who started the ICD was Lynn Williams. You remember Lynn.”
A Canadian-born International President of the United Steelworkers back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“Williams said the purpose of the program was to prepare workers for the eventuality of losing their jobs when companies closed for whatever reason.”
Before becoming executive director what was you position here?
Talk about some of the projects that ICD coordinated during your tenure here. Projects that benefitted steel workers in Northwest Indiana.
“The ‘Faces of Steel’ photography project was one. That exhibit went on tour for about three years. The ICD’s Stephanie Stalmah helped direct ‘Steelworkers on Stage’; that was a big hit. Steel workers actually wrote their own script telling the steel workers story; they took the play to New York City. A great writing project was putting together a book called ‘The Heat.’ We have teachers who still use ‘The Heat’ as a text for their English classes.”
“My wife and I like to travel. Two years ago, we spent Thanksgiving in Ireland. During the mid-‘80s, my oldest daughter and I were able to take a trip to the Holy Land. It just blew me away. It was such a surprise; a fun trip that was so informational. We traveled with a small group from our church in Texas.”
What church was that?
“Episcopalian. It was a very dangerous trip at that time. We traveled to Jordan and didn’t know if we were going to make it to Israel or not.”
“Yes. We stayed in Petra which is an ancient city made of sandstone. The sandstone was so massive, they actually carved buildings out of it. It also was in the movie with Indiana Jones. Petra is not inhabited; it’s a museum area now. From what I understand, Petra was developed because it was the crossroads of the trade routes.”
How will you occupy your time while retired?
“One project is a home I plan to fix up. It was my mother’s; she lived there for more than 50 years before passing in January at the age of 92. We’ll still keep our place in Schererville, but we also want to have a place closer to our kids and grandkids.”
I’ve known the soft-spoken native Texan for about 10 years now. Albeit somewhat behind the scenes, Jerry Evans was the working person’s friend.
He’ll be missed.