Selby Lighthill/contributed photo
John Evans, former county council member, died on Aug. 2.

Selby Lighthill/contributed photo John Evans, former county council member, died on Aug. 2.

Politics and plants | John Evans leaves behind a legacy

A passion for property rights led John Evans to serve three terms on the San Juan County Council.

The 40-year Orcas resident died peacefully in his home on the evening of Aug. 2. He was 78.

“He loved the lifestyle here and it was important for him to do all he could to keep it that way,” said his wife of 42 years, Wanda.

John first discovered the San Juans while on spring break from college in the 1960s. He and a handful of fraternity brothers from the University of Oregon sailed through on their way to Vancouver, B.C., and John vowed to return one day.

He and Wanda met in Santa Barbara while at the same corporate restaurant chain, where John was vice president of marketing and Wanda worked in accounting. They bought 28 acres of pasture, growing grounds and woodlands in the Doe Bay area in 1973. By 1985, with both of their sons in college, the two decided to live on Orcas full-time.

“It was wonderful. We’d been up for several summers and Christmas camping on the property, so we knew what we were getting into,” Wanda remembered. “For both of us, it was time to make a change in our lives and get away from our corporate lives.”

They launched Evans Nursery in 1989, offering a variety of plants and fruit and heirloom trees. John helped organize the Arbor Day tree giveaways for many years, and their property, which later grew to 40 acres, was also home to sheep and chickens. Wanda will continue to run the nursery.

Evans served on the council from 1992-2003, inspired to run after the county announced plans to straighten the Flaherty’s Hill area of Olga Road, which would have required eminent domain on private land. After his election, he was successful in halting the project.

“He was always in favor of property rights and fewer rules and regulations,” Wanda said. “He was really pleased to be a part of the ban on jet skis in the waters of San Juan County.”

After his tenure in county government, John served on the Economic Development Council, as chairman of the San Juan County Fair Board and as executive director of the San Juan Building Association, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing issues facing the housing industry. He was also a volunteer firefighter alongside Wanda, an EMT, and played the clarinet.

The Evans’ sons, who both live in Santa Barbara and have two children each, visited their parents this summer and were able to spend quality time with John.

After news of his passing, islanders posted on Orcas Island Memorial Facebook page, thanking John for his service to the county in his political and nonprofit endeavors and for providing botanical treasures.

Friend Jim Durand called him a “husband, father and all-around fantastic person” who did “many great things for the county, Orcas and the Doe Bay Community.”

Justin Paulsen wrote, “John was an adversary to many, a champion to others and a friend to all. He leaves behind a legacy on Orcas and in San Juan County of leading from the front and making hard decisions when they were necessary. He also leaves a legacy that around our house is enjoyed every year and will be well into the future.”

Jean Wellington wrote, “John was a good man and the most responsive county commissioner we’ve had since I’ve lived on Orcas.”

Hilary Canty, executive director of the Orcas Island Community Foundation, lives in the Doe Bay neighborhood.

“He was a remarkable neighbor and community member. Both he and Wanda served Orcas Fire and Rescue for many years, keeping the Eastside safe and sound. He will be missed. Love to all who loved him,” she said.

Wanda says John, who was known for a twinkle in his eye, was genuinely happy all the time. He even got along with everyone, even if they didn’t agree politically, she added.

“That was his personality: always smiling, always happy,” she said.