MISSOULA ~ Gerald (Jerry) Edwin Evans died January 14, 2023, at home in Missoula, MT, due to complications from a brain tumor diagnosed in October. He was born in Great Falls, MT, to George and Ina Mae (Carson) Evans on July 4, 1949; second in line to brother, Charles, and ahead of little sister, Randi. They moved to Swan Lake, MT, when he was a child, building a new life and business at Birch Glen Cabins on the shore of Swan Lake. The Evans children attended Swan Lake School, a two-room elementary, and explored the breathtaking lake surrounded by mountains and the crystal-clear creeks feeding into it. When Jerry was 10, tragedy struck with the sudden death of his father; afterward, Ina Mae and her children blended their family with a stepfather, a union that resulted in the birth of brother, Russ Kastner. Sadly, in 1974, the children also lost their beloved mother.
Jerry attended high school in Bigfork, MT, fondly describing it as “a time when there were logging trucks on Main Street and not a potter’s wheel in sight.” He always worked around school, at Sliter’s and bucking bales on what is today, Eagle Bend Golf Course. As a teenager, he bought a partially functional car and discovered he had a knack for taking things apart and a decent success rate at putting them back together. A Bigfork Viking, he played football, basketball, and sang in choir groups. Jerry had a beautiful voice and sang throughout his life. Upon graduation, he attended Prairie College, then returned home to Montana where he began ministerial work. He picked up a second-hand textbook on construction and began home remodeling projects, ultimately moving on to operate as a general contractor. Jerry could draw plans and build anything; he was an exemplary electrician and plumber. Teased about his sloppier finish carpentry skills, he laughed and said, “It looks great from the street!” One early achievement was a new facility for C Bar N Bible Camp, where he handled the placement of a 66’ ridge beam across the ceiling by himself. Ultimately, he built thirteen houses, primarily with piecemeal (and often untrained) help. He worked concurrently as a regional staff member for InterVarsity, and then, one November while finishing a roof in a snowstorm on a house in Belgrade, Jerry had an epiphany and turned to his helper to declare, “There must be a better way to make a living, and I can almost see that college over there.”
Jerry completed his baccalaureate degree at Providence University, then earned two master’s degrees at Montana State University. Next, he was accepted into The Claremont Graduate University for a Ph.D. in experimental psychology, but he was drawn to a new field of study advanced there by Professor Peter Drucker; it was known as Management Information Systems. He loved understanding holistic systems while concurrently analyzing all data streams across organizations. He began teaching at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona before moving to a professorate in MIS at the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business Administration. He earned teaching and research awards at both institutions. Then Jerry met Roberta (Bobbie) Fluke, a Reno educator and doctoral student in educational administration. They were married in 1987, and after Bobbie’s graduation, they accepted faculty positions at the University of Montana in its two finest Schools. At UM from Fall 1988 – Fall 2022, Jerry taught Operations Management, Ethics, Quantitative Analysis, Strategic Management, System Analysis and Design, Project Management, Statistical Methods, Capstone, Leadership, Conflict Management and Cross-Cultural Management. He conducted more than 50 research studies and had work published and presented nationally and internationally, leading to awards for teaching, research, outreach, and department chair service at UM. His service was meaningful to him and included many years on the UM Athletics Committee and Davidson Honors College Board, and he also worked hard in support of technology advances, national accreditation, and many faculty searches. He told his friend and colleague, Shawn Clouse, that he planned to attend the 2023 commencement, not having missed one in 35 years. His work found many outlets, including executive education to businesses, regional hospitals, the U.S. Forest service, and the Montana Department of Transportation. He served on the boards of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Organizing Committee of Leadership Montana (where he was proud to have been a founding member), and the Board of Governors of Leadership Montana. He became committed to the Leadership Montana model and mission of developing leaders committed to building a better Montana through knowledge, collaboration and civility. Jerry was committed to authentic progress amid diverse opinions. Two days before his passing, the LMT Board of Governors awarded him the coveted Tom Scott Award; he was surprised and happy, declaring it “awesome.” He also taught real estate and insurance courses for Connole-Morton for 25 years, creating content and instructional methodologies aimed at ensuring successful student performance on licensing examinations.
In Missoula, Jerry enjoyed outdoor activities and the University community, designed and built a home with Bobbie, played music and sang, and was especially thrilled with the birth of his sons, Daniel Carson Evans and Michael Gordon Evans. Their lives were intertwined with her family, and soon Jerry oversaw the construction of a home a half block away from their own for Gordon and Geraldean Fluke, in-laws he always referred to as “Mom and Dad”; indeed, they loved him as a son. An accomplished hiker and canoeist, Jerry loved camping along the banks of the Smith and Dearborn Rivers and spending time in the Black Hills at the Flukes’ ranch. Although their marriage ended, Jerry and Bobbie were close friends to the end.
Anyone who knew Jerry Evans heard about his sons. Throughout their lives, he jumped on every opportunity to spend time with them, sharing adventures near and far, including international travel. He taught them about Montana’s rivers and ensured they knew the players of the Boston Celtics in preschool; years later, he was proud to have made them “not just fans, but stockholders” in the Green Bay Packers. They played countless hours of basketball, and he switched to snowboarding from skiing himself when they did. Of course, he instilled Griz Fandom in them with season tickets. A prolific and generous photographer, he recorded their upbringing with images that captured many tender moments: a boy’s earnest glance at his coach, a grimace at the audience before returning to an unfinished song at a piano recital, and warm embraces, including those with dogs. Jerry was also outspoken about his feelings; if he loved you, he wasn’t one to leave it a mystery. Consistent with that, beginning when they left for college, his sons received Sunday night emails that continued until recently when his speedy typing skills were hampered by his illness. Those messages brimmed with enthusiastic encouragement, offered advice, and conveyed his confidence in and love for Dan and Mike.
People often quote the sentiment that “upon nearing the end of life, no one ever wishes they’d spent more time at the office.” Yet Jerry Evans clearly stated he wanted more time to spend exactly there. He loved his colleagues, his students, his College and University. UM College of Business Dean Suzanne Tilleman captured it best when informing the faculty of his passing: “I keep thinking about how Jerry told me he loved to teach and wanted to keep teaching for as long as possible,” she wrote. “He continued to be inspired by his students and colleagues every week. He knew his ‘why’ and he lived it every day. And in turn he inspired us every day.”
Jerry was preceded in death by his brother Chuck, father- and mother-in-law, and treasured friend, Bob Connole. He is survived by his sons Daniel Evans and Michael Evans; Bobbie Evans and CJ Tornabene; Randi and Clay Colby (Josh and Caleb); Darlene (Jessica) Evans; Russ and Jan Kastner (Alex and Alana); Doug Fluke (Allison and Lowell; Zach and Derek Hitchner); and Linsey Heermans. Also prepared to advance his joie de vivre and legacy are “family members” he cultivated for himself and loved with loyalty and light: Jack Morton, Chantel Schieffer, Shawn Clouse, Mike Harrington, Dawn Hambrick, Anna Berg, and Donna Eakman.
He loved to drive! Maybe we who knew him will be reminded of his warm voice while marveling at yet another beautiful Montana landscape through our windshields, the open road lying ahead to carry us toward our futures, while Jerry points out with a nod to the scenery that our present moments are pretty darn amazing, too.
A memorial service for Gerald (Jerry) Edwin Evans will be held at the University of Montana Gallagher Business Building Room 106 on February 11 at 2:00 PM, with a reception to follow. Interment is at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Missoula.