E.V. leader Bob Evans dies; pushed for freeways
Bob Evans

Bob Evans, a longtime Mesa civic leader and a driving force behind the Valley's freeway system, died Friday, according to family members and friends.

Evans was 86 and had suffered from Parkinson's disease for the past few years.

Evans was a member of the State Transportation Board from 1979 to 1984, when he was an ardent proponent of freeway construction in the East Valley and bridge construction over the Salt River. He helped to push U.S. 60, the Superstition Freeway, eastward to Power Road and later to Apache Junction.

The freeway was largely responsible for spurring the rapid growth of Tempe and Mesa during the 1970s and 1980s.

He also was deeply involved in the Proposition 300 campaign in 1985 to finance construction of a major expansion of the Valley freeway system. That expansion included loops 101 and 202, and Evans lived long enough to see the completion of the last leg of the 202 in east Mesa in July.

"The East Valley owes a great deal of gratitude for the behind-the-scenes work he did at the State Transportation Board," said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, a regional advocacy group that Evans helped to form. "Many of the freeways we are using today were visioned by him."

Evans also was a co-founder of the Kids Voting program, which teaches children the importance of voting. From its beginnings in Mesa, the program has expanded to countries around the world.

Evans was a Mesa-based distributor of Chevron oil products, and at the age of 67 he co-founded CP Products Co., which produces spray nozzles for agricultural crop dusters and today dominates its market.

He was active in the Rotary Club, serving as district governor, and was active in the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and Mesa United Way. He also was involved in the organization of Mesa Bank.

In 1993, he was selected Mesa Man of the Year by the Mesa Citizens of the Year Association.

"Bob was always considered one of the strong leaders in Mesa, having been a part of almost every organization you can imagine," said Charlie Deaton, director of the Mesa chamber.

In his spare time, Evans was an avid pilot and adventurer, flying his own twin-engine aircraft from South America to Alaska and visiting many remote areas of the world such as Mongolia and western China. He even reached the North and South Poles, said his daughter, Carolyn Baecker.

"If ever there was a man that had a good time in life, he did," Baecker said.

Charles Wahlheim, former publisher of the Tribune, recalled one trip that he and former Tribune executive editor Max Jennings took with Evans to Costa Rica. Evans' plane ran low on fuel, and he was forced to make an emergency landing at a deserted strip somewhere in the Costa Rican jungle.

"I think it was something that Oliver North had built, really," Wahlheim said. "There were no buildings anywhere. People came out pointing guns at us, probably thinking we were drug runners or something like that. Fortunately, Max spoke fluent Spanish."

Later in that trip, the trio learned about the high voter turnout for Costa Rican elections and how children were taught from a young age the importance of voting. Out of that experience, they founded the Kids Voting program.

Wahlheim recounted other trips with Evans: following the silk route across the Gobi Desert in China and scuba diving at Truk lagoon in the Pacific, where a fleet of Japanese ships was sunk during World War II. "He really changed my life," Wahlheim said.

Evans was active in politics, running once unsuccessfully for the Arizona Legislature. He later helped form a Republicans for Babbitt organization in the East Valley, a move that brought him plenty of grief from his Republican friends who disapproved of his support for Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat who was running for governor.

But Babbitt won the election and rewarded Evans by appointing him as the East Valley representative to the transportation board. Evans was raised in Flagstaff and attended Arizona State College, now Northern Arizona University. He learned to fly in World War II and became an instructor pilot for the Army Air Force, training Chinese cadets at a base in Marana.

After leaving the military, he worked as a newspaper editor in Winslow and sold real estate in Oregon and insurance in Southern California before moving to Mesa in 1954 to help with his father's oil distributor business. He stayed in the East Valley thereafter.

For the past four months, he lived in an assisted living section of Friendship Village in Tempe, where he died early Friday morning.

In addition to Carolyn, he is survived by his wife, Nell, another daughter, Marilyn Evans, sons Rob Evans and Jeff Quinn, sister Esther Long, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren,

A memorial service is planned at 2 p.m. Thursday at the First Presbyterian Church of Mesa, 161 N. Mesa Drive. The family suggests donations to the Superstition Mountain Mental Health Center, P.O. Box 3160, Apache Junction, AZ 85217, or to any charity of choice.

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