Cover Story: ‘We Love This Community’

Steve and Ardie Evans believe so strongly in this community that they’ve put their time, energy and resources behind it for decades. From their early days at ASU to their remarkable philanthropy today, get to know this powerhouse couple that uses their influence in order to give back.

They’ve been married for 57 years

Ardie McCrone had barely started her freshman year at Arizona State University when she was set up on a blind date. Steve Evans, a junior, wore a coat and tie to the dinner at his fraternity house. “From fraternity row, we walked across the railroad tracks to the stadium for the first football game of the year,” Ardie said. “It was August, and I was wearing three-inch heels and stockings.”

A year-and-a-half later, Ardie and Steve were married at the Newman Center at ASU — a love story and partnership that has spanned more than five decades and helped shape our community.

They’ve traveled the world

Steve Evans grew up in Downey, California, a city of 113,000 people halfway between downtown L.A. and Disneyland. The Carpenters hailed from Downey, and it is the birthplace of the Apollo space program.

Evans left Downey in 1963 to attend ASU through the ROTC program. After earning a bachelor’s degree and an MBA, he headed to Biloxi, Mississippi, for 11 months of Air Force electronics and electrical engineering training. Then, he and Ardie were sent to Hawaii, where Steve served as an officer, building electronic systems in the Pacific for three-and-a-half years.

The young couple loved exploring the islands and took trips to Asia when they could. “I think that’s where Ardie and I developed a love of travel,” Steve said.

They settled in Arizona

When it came time to put down roots, they decided Arizona presented the most opportunity. Steve worked for five years at W.R. Schulz and Associates, an apartment investment company, before
co-founding Evans Withycombe Residential. The company merged with Equity Residential in the late 90s, and Steve stayed on the executive committee and board for another 10 years.

Through all the growth and change — “We remember when Shea Boulevard was gravel,” Ardie said — the couple remained bullish on Arizona. They still are. “Coming back was the absolute right thing to do in so many ways,” she said.

They rolled up their sleeves

Ardie and Steve have always been active in the community. In the early days of their marriage, Ardie joined the Junior League and supported Phoenix Art Museum. Steve started with Luke’s Men, which became Vitalyst. “For us, volunteerism leads to philanthropy. We don’t just give money to organizations. We volunteer and go to work,” Steve said.

Ardie’s first fundraising effort provides an early glimpse. When Ardie was in her 20s, a friend asked her to help canvass for March of Dimes. So she set out, pulling her kids in a wagon behind her. “Everyone gave the same amount — $1. I came home and wrote my very first check for a donation. I mean, we’d make little donations, for kids’ stuff or money in the basket at church, but this was a real check for $10,” Ardie said. “You never guess where life is going to take you.”

Indeed, that $10 led the Evanses to broad and deep commitments to the community, in education, health and human services, and arts and culture. Valley of the Sun United Way, Homeward Bound, the W. P. Carey School of Business, Trust for Public Land, Paradise Valley Mountain Preserve Trust, Arizona Community Foundation, Desert Botanical Garden, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale, Phoenix Art Museum, Teach for America, and the ASU Foundation have all benefited from their dedication.

“Look at the boards we’ve been on. You can kind of tell where most of the money goes, because we’ve rolled up our volunteer sleeves or chaired a capital campaign,” Steve said. “I think that’s from Ardie being a candy striper when she was in high school and me being in the Key Club in Southern California. Our families were involved,” Steve said.

They raised leaders

Family is central to the Evanses’ world and a reason they invest in the community. “This is where we raised our three children, and we’ve been lucky to have eight grandchildren raised here,” Ardie said. “So, we care a lot about the health of this community and the quality of life for everyone.”

All three of Ardie and Steve’s children are active in community life. Pam Kolbe, their oldest daughter, is executive director of Desert View Learning Center and chair of the Board of Visitors. Lizzie Bayless, their youngest daughter, serves on the Board of Visitors board, too. Their middle child, Matt Evans, is active in housing, working in the same business as his dad.

“They each have different specifics, but they get it,” Steve said of their involvement.

Growing up, the Evans kids frequently came to events their parents worked on. “They learned through that,” Ardie said. “What we were doing became important enough that we were spending our time on it.”

The tradition extends to the current generation. (Their youngest grandchild is a senior in high school. The rest are in college, and one is in the U.S. Air Force.) “I can remember our oldest granddaughter was working on a lemonade stand for the Humane Society. She gave me a Ziploc baggie full of money. Before I handed it over, I had to wash it, because it was sticky from the lemonade,” Ardie laughed.

They want to widen the tent

Arizona is a great place to live, but there’s a lot of need, too. Because resources are limited, Ardie and Steve believe we have to look to nonprofits, particularly in serving the most under-resourced communities.

For decades, Steve has admired Valley of the Sun United Way’s work to monitor needs, identify social issues and bring the right people together. “They don’t just give money; they have a staff that works with the various nonprofits on these issues to give a longer-term runway,” he said.

Steve and Ardie have invested heavily in Valley of the Sun United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society since they became members in 1996. At the time, the Society, made up of those who commit at least $10,000 a year, included about 30 members.

During their stint as chairs of the Tocqueville Society in 2004, local membership surpassed 400 — the largest group of Society members in the country that year. More importantly, those members provided more than $7 million to support Valley of the Sun United Way’s efforts to address the most vital human care issues in our community.

“We were really committed to it, and it grew exponentially,” Ardie said. “It was reaching a tipping point. We were just there to help it along.”

Their service to the organization continues. Steve now serves on the Valley of the Sun United Way board.

They invest in what they know

At least once a year, Ardie and Steve sit down and evaluate where they’ve been giving and what they’d like to get to in the future. It’s thoughtful, and it tends to favor organizations they know best.

“Ardie and I have done a lot with ASU. I’m currently on the board of the foundation, and Ardie is in ASU Women and Philanthropy. That’s a biggie for us, because it’s so impactful,” Steve said.

Impact and openness to collaboration are key traits of organizations they support. “And then Ardie and I look at our other interests. We support Trust for Public Land, Paradise Valley Mountain Preserve Trust, the Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden for the same reason — conservation and outdoor spaces,” Steve said. “We want to promote healthy outdoor spaces for people to enjoy. That’s something we’re very fortunate to be surrounded with in Arizona.”

They like to have fun

An overseas laugh turned into a gift for the Valley after Steve and Ardie took a trip to Shanghai in 2007. They traveled with Chevy Humphrey, the then-CEO of the Arizona Science Center. Steve was giving the graduation speech at an MBA program on behalf of the W. P. Carey School, and together they visited the newly opened Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. “One million square feet!” Ardie said. “It was museums within museums.”

Among the fun, interactive displays was a bike rolling above them, balanced on a cable. “Chevy and I got Ardie up on it, and she was riding it back and forth on this wire,” Steve said. “We said, ‘We’ve got to have one of those in Arizona!’”

Today, the Evans Family SkyCycle — one of just eight in the world — allows Arizona Science Center passengers to experience properties of counterbalance and center of gravity, just like Ardie enjoyed in Shanghai.

They’ve shifted power to influence

When Steve turned 50, he received a book from his friend Patty Withycombe, the wife of his business partner, Keith. It was Gail Sheehy’s “Men’s Passages,” about men’s journey through middle age.

It argued that to stay relevant in the second half of life, executives must make the transition from power to influence. The book made a tremendous impression on Steve. 

“I don’t have power on a board,” he said. “But I do have influence.”

Accordingly, he and Ardie now use their time and influence to help steer and support the community.

The Evanses see philanthropy as a natural progression. “You don’t give up the volunteerism because you become a philanthropist. It just gives you more impact and extension. You grow in your life,” Steve said.

The key is getting started. “It doesn’t matter where you start, but make that transition early,” he said.

They have advice

It seems fitting that the couple whose story started at an ASU football game now looks to that university’s president to maintain their zest for the future. “I learned from Michael Crow years ago that Arizona’s growth rate is an opportunity, because the faster the rate of change, the more impact each decision has. ASU is a perfect example,” Steve said.

So, Ardie and Steve continue to use their considerable influence for maximum impact, and try to convince others to, as well. Their belief in this community is palpable, and so is their faith in what can be done. 

“Forget about giving back. Just think about giving,” Ardie said. “It just takes a lot of people doing a tiny bit to make a difference.”  

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.

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