Lee Evans, who advised countless builders on their businesses during the past 40 years, died Saturday in Colorado. Evans, a resident of Nederland, Colo., was 92 years old. He had pancreatic cancer.
“This is the end of an era for the housing industry,” Chuck Shinn, a longtime colleague of Evans, said in an email regarding Evans’ death.
Lee Evans was born March 1, 1917, in Colorado, the son of Sam and Jennie Lee Evans. According to his 2002 autobiography, “From Happy Valley to the Mountaintop,” his name drew on both family names.
After his father died when Lee was just two years old, Evans moved with his mother to Eldora, Colo., near Boulder. He grew up there and in Louisville, where they lived during the winter. In Eldora, Evans worked on the family farm, milking cows, working horses, and chopping wood.
He apparently had plenty of energy in class too. In his third-grade report card from the Boulder County public schools in the 1925-1926 academic year, his teacher noted that the young Lee was “inclined to mischief.”
Even as a youngster, Evans clearly loved the outdoors. When he wasn’t in school, he worked as a dude wrangler, guiding tourists on horseback rides and fishing trips; assisted with sheepherding , and supported the Colorado trail builders in the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. “The year was 1934, and the Depression and bank failures had taken most of our meager savings,” he remembered in his autobiography. “Times were tough, and it was good to have some work ahead of me that paid hard cash!”
Evans graduated from high school in 1935, during the Great Depression, and eventually enrolled at what would become Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He went on to Northwestern University for graduate work and then began working as an investment manager in Chicago in the 1940s, evaluating stocks and company financials to make wartime investment recommendations. (Among the investors he worked with: former U.S. President Herbert Hoover.)
“I became very proficient at tearing apart balance sheets and profit and loss statements to determine the quality of management represented in information published in the Wall Street Journal, Barrows, Standard & Poor, and Moody Manuals, as well as annual reports published by the companies,” Evans wrote. “There is just no way to say how important this experience was to me in later years of teaching and management consulting.”
Home builders across the country would agree. Evans, who joined the University of Denver in the 1940s and started his home building consulting business in the 1950s, counseled numerous builders during his lifetime through seminars and personal consulting.
His timing was impeccable. Evans and his business management expertise emerged at the exact same time as post-World War II America, with its baby boom and suburban dreams and a desperate need for new housing after a decade of depression and a decade of wartime. GIs flooded back from Europe and Japan, eager to get to work and support their growing families in the burgeoning housing industry.
Evans gave them—and the builders that would follow—the structure to be successful in the new world of production home building and suburban development. He told them how to improve their profitability. He reminded them to save money for the inevitable downturns. He urged them to “compel events to conform to plan,” encouraging them to “plan their work and work their plan.”
His wife Virginia, whom he married in 1969, joined him in his consulting work, hosting conferences, traveling to builder meetings, typing reports, and more.
Builders quickly became devoted to the Lee Evans philosophy and practices as well as to the man himself, as evidenced by interviews done by BUILDER this summer for a story on Evans’ legacy. “He allowed us to live a life we never could have lived,” said Bob Kennedy, owner Homes By Kennedy, who like many builders, considered Evans a “second father.”
Evans is survived by his wife Virginia and his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
According to Shinn, there will be a service for Evans in Nederland, Colo., on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the following:
Lee and Virginia Evans scholarship
National Housing Endowment
National Association of Home Builders
1201 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
Lee and Virginia Evans Endowed Scholarship Fund
Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management
Daniels College of Business
University of Denver
2101 South University Boulevard
Denver, Colo. 80208
Humane Society of Boulder Valley
Lee and Virginia Evans Cat and Kitten Adoption Center
2323 55th Street
Boulder, Colo. 80301-2806
Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Denver, CO.