by Alan Pollock, The Cape Cod Chronicle
Tom Evans doesn’t need to be reminded about the value of land conservation. When he and his wife purchased an antique house in North Harwich in 1973, it was on a quiet road to nowhere. Today, the road is busier than ever, heavily traveled by lots of vehicles – including 10-wheel dump trucks pulling heavy equipment used to prepare construction sites.
But thanks to the foresight of conservationists, his back yard faces a thick forest that’s penetrated only by the meandering Herring River.
Evans has just been elected president of the board of directors of the Harwich Conservation Trust, succeeding his longtime friend, the late Bob Smith.
“Jan and I have known Bob and Patti Smith” for many years, Evans said. It was Smith who first convinced him to join the Trust’s board. Just two months before Smith passed away, Evans had a heart-to-heart talk with him.
“I said to him, ‘At some point, you might want to rest,’” Evans recalled. Smith’s response was predictable: he said that, if he stopped volunteering, he wouldn’t know what else to do. “All of us knew that the Trust was Bob’s passion,” Evans said. Largely under Smith’s leadership, the Harwich Conservation Trust has helped to protect more than 448 acres, with large tracts around the Herring River and around Muddy Creek, and smaller parcels all around town. Keeping land from being developed not only preserves wildlife habitat and scenic areas, but eases the burden on the Cape’s aquifer and its infrastructure.
Evans grew up in the Chicago area as the youngest of eight children. His parents were both intellectuals; his father was a neurosurgeon.
“I decided I didn’t want to be a doctor,” he said, but he liked academics. Evans was a sociology major at Dartmouth, and found himself in the midst of an interesting sociological conflict: the Vietnam War.
“No colleges were happy places” at the time, Evans recalled. Thanks to an occupational deferral and a draft number of 223 – students below 222 got their marching orders – Evans remained on campus. But despite his major, Evans spent most of his time studying education, thanks to another quirk of fate.
When he was 11, he and two siblings were sent to French-speaking boarding schools in Switzerland.
“I was young, alone, and didn’t speak a word of French,” he recalled. “It was the single-most formative experience in our lives.” Evans returned home a year later speaking French fluently. He studied with John Rassias, the Dartmouth professor who pioneered a new method of teaching foreign languages, and was drafted as one of Rassias’ “drill instructors.” At the age of 21 or 22, he was earning a handsome paycheck, and he became an effective and valued member of the faculty.
And so began a lifelong, albeit unintentional, career in education. Evans was hired as the admissions director at the Williston-Northampton School, a private prep school, and six years later he took a post as associate head at the Carroll School outside Boston. He began to understand the unique challenges that face private schools, and took a post with the National Association of Independent Schools, where he served as a liaison with 35 regional branches of the organization.
Evans learned that Cape Cod Academy, a “struggling little day school,” was in the market for a new leader, and he was hired. At the time, the private school had an enrollment of 75 students, and was renting space on on a year-to-year basis in Osterville. The school had excellent board members, but was otherwise operating “on a wing and a prayer,” Evans said. He was 32 years old when he took charge of the school.
“I was much too young,” he said with a laugh. “But I didn’t know it at the time.” When he retired in 2006, Cape Cod Academy was very highly regarded and had an enrollment of more than 400. It was operating from a campus of its own, and benefiting from a growing endowment.
Upon retirement, Evans became a consultant with a group of seven other educators organized as Resource Group 175. The firm helps recruit leader for private day schools and boarding schools, and helps those schools with sound strategic planning. After six years, Evans recently stepped down as the firm’s president, and plans to begin easing himself into retirement.
Years earlier, he had joined the board of trustees of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, after the off-Cape bank that held Cape Cod Academy’s bonds went bankrupt. He vowed do to business only with banks that knew their customers. Evans also serves on the board of the Cape Cod Foundation. Retirement will offer him the chance to spend more time with these groups and the Harwich Conservation Trust.
If there’s a key issue facing Cape Cod now, it’s probably the need to protect the region’s waterways, which are the reason people choose the Cape as a place to visit or to live. Economically speaking, a water quality crisis, like a disaster at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant, “has the capacity to kill the Cape,” Evans said. In the years ahead, groups like the Harwich Conservation Trust will be critical tools for offsetting the burden of development.
“I believe strongly that the Cape needs to pay attention to balancing its resources,” Evans said.