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Owen and Lizzie Evans

Owen and Lizzie Evans: Keeping Store, Sustaining Community*

Owen Griffith Evans was quiet, meticulous and studious. His wife, Lizzie, was exuberant, social and often behind in her housework. He was mathematical, she was musical. He listened, she "spread the news." When she scolded he smiled and "let it wash over him." He always walked the block between home and their general store; she drove. At times she could be less than generous when dishing up ice cream cones to young customers, while he readily extended credit to those in need, well knowing he'd never be repaid. So go the memories of family, friends and patrons of the former O.G. Evans General Merchandise store of Pauline. But the husband and wife team who appeared to be polar opposites successfully ran a business that for decades was the hub of the unincorporated farming village. Throughout the course of daily transactions, from 1922 until the 1960s, the couple endeared themselves to the Pauline community, their general store fostering family friendships that have extended into second and third generations.

The store, however, is but one chapter in the colorful lives of Owen and Lizzie Evans. To say that they gave generously of their time and talents to serve the people and institutions of Pauline is an understatement. In reality, the extent of their community involvement is almost mind-boggling, given that they kept their store open six days a week. Many of those workdays, particularly for Owen, were 14 to 16 hours in length, with minimal or no outside help.

Brief Biographies

Their story begins with Owen's birth on Jan. 18, 1890, on a farm southeast of Pauline, just after the village was established in 1887 by the Kansas City and Omaha Railway Company. His parents were John and Ann (Williams) Evans, both natives of Wales. John and his brother had immigrated to Adams County from Beddgelert, Wales in 1883. Of the four children born to A program from Owen's 1903-04 school year at District 20 Antioch, southeast of Pauline. His uncle, Griffith Evans, was teacher. Courtesy of Agnes Haba and Dorothy Kosmacek.A program from Owen's 1903-04 school year at District 20 Antioch, southeast of Pauline. His uncle, Griffith Evans, was teacher. Courtesy of Agnes Haba and Dorothy Kosmacek.John and Ann Evans, only Owen and his brother Roy grew to adulthood. The Evans family was active in Pauline Methodist Church, where Owen was received into full membership August 7, 1908. As a young man he helped haul sand from area farms to the church yard, where it was used to make cement blocks for the 1907 construction of the new Methodist church building. Prior to that time, Owen attended District 20, Antioch School, located in the southeast quarter of Little Blue Township. Among his teachers was his uncle, Griffith Evans. Griffith and John Evans were both educated, eloquent men who wrote articles about their Nebraska lives for newspapers in Wales, according to Doris Alexander, youngest daughter of Owen and Lizzie.

The importance of education was ingrained in Owen, as he entered the School of Agriculture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Oct. 31, 1910. There he attended two years of a four-year course in agriculture. A 1910-11 bulletin from the School of Agriculture shows the course of study included algebra, English, chemistry, civics and history in addition to agrarian subjects. Lack of finances likely prevented Owen from finishing the program, said his daughter. Archival records show that prior to his university enrollment, Owen attended Hastings Business College, but no other information is known about his time there. Whether or not he attended high school is not known. Before long, he was back in the Pauline area, serving on the Little Blue Township board from 1915-16.

He went on to serve in the military. Records of the Oak Creek Cemetery in northern Webster County indicate that Owen enlisted in the U.S. Army Sept. 19, 1917 and left for Europe June 29, 1918. He served in France during World War I as a priLizzie is pictured as an adolescent in 1911. Courtesy of Marlyce Brown.Lizzie is pictured as an adolescent in 1911. Courtesy of Marlyce Brown.vate in Company C of the 105th Field Signal Battalion in the US Army Signal Corps. He returned to the United States April 11, 1919 and was discharged from the Army 10 days later at Camp Dodge, Iowa. Owen served on the front lines of the ground war in France, said his daughter, but little else is known about his time overseas, as both he and his wife studiously avoided talk of that subject at home. Pauline-area residents say it was commonly known that Owen was gassed and had sustained shrapnel in his legs during his wartime service. As a result, he suffered from periods of "fading out" and chronic leg pain, exacerbated by the long hours he put in on the rough stone and cement floor of his general store. He was a member of a service organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Barracks #1556 of World War I Veterans of Hastings, said his daughter, Doris Alexander.

Owen's wife, Frances Elizabeth Anderson, was born May 24, 1898 to Edd and Kate (Heeren) Anderson near Leroy, northeast of Pauline. She was the eldest of three daughters and a son born to the couple, both natives of Lincoln, Ill. By 1906 the family had moved to a farm southeast of Pauline, the NW ¼ of Section 34. Frances, or "Lizzie" as she was commonly known, attended Antioch and District 7 Union schools in Adams County through the eighth grade. While most of the area children walked to Union school, the Anderson children had use of a horse-drawn buggy, pulled by a white horse named Maude. Pupils took turns morning and noon walking to a farm house one-half mile away to fill a pail with water for drinking.** A 1933 fire destroyed the Union School building and likely any records prior to that time, so little else is known of Lizzie's education. It is doubtful that she attended high school.

The farm where she grew up adjoined the Evans family's land, according to Alexander, adding that the two fathers exchanged work over the years. Ironically, Alexander noted, one of Lizzie's childhood memories was of going to town with her parents in their wagon, but not being allowed to go inside the store. The future storekeeper remained in the family wagon with her siblings while their father went inside and purchased supplies.

Marriage and Early Family Life

Lizzie was received into full membership at Pauline Methodist Church Feb. 1, 1918. Another important event was on the horizon, as plans had been made for marriage to Owen "as soon as he returned" from the war, wrote Lizzie's youngest sister Sarah in an autobiography. "We were all so happy that he was coming home from France."** Church records show that Lizzie and Owen were married Nov. 12, 1919, with his brother Lizzie is pictured with her parents and siblings. From left to right are Lizzie, Roy, Mattie and Sarah Anderson. Seated in front are parents Edd and Kate Heeren Anderson. Courtesy of Marlyce Brown.Lizzie is pictured with her parents and siblings. From left to right are Lizzie, Roy, Mattie and Sarah Anderson. Seated in front are parents Edd and Kate Heeren Anderson. Courtesy of Marlyce Brown.Roy and her sister Mattie serving as witnesses. The wedding took place in the Anderson home four miles south of Pauline, with only the two families present.

"The minister walked from Pauline to our home at night, and while he was there it rained, so my father took him back after the wedding was over," Sarah wrote.

Theirs was a union formed in love, said their daughter, Doris Alexander. The young couple made their first home together on the Evans homestead, a mile east of Lizzie's parents. They farmed his family's land for a short time, but "farming wasn't his bag," Alexander said. Owen briefly managed Pauline's east grain elevator before purchasing the general store in Pauline from the Farmers Union Co-operative Association in 1922. The couple spent the rest of their married life operating O.G. Evans General Merchandise store, more commonly known as "Evans Store".

While the upstairs of the store was finished and livable, Alexander said, it was utilized for storage, and the couple made their home in a residence located a little more than one block to the south. It was there that Owen and Lizzie's three children were born. Tragedy struck the young couple in 1924 when their first-born and only son, 3-year-old Mervin, succumbed to complications from the measles. "Mom said when he died it was like an angel came down and took him out of her arms," said the couple's eldest daughter, Ruth Swanson.

"I know it was just a terrible blow for Mom," said Alexander. "Mom was just really destroyed, destroyed, for a long time." Life went on, however, and by this time there was a second baby, Ruth, to care for. Doris' birth in 1926 completed the family.  The little boy's death wasn't often spoken of while the girls were growing up, Alexander said. "I don't think Mom ever got over losing Mervin," she added.

But rather than turning inward on their grief, the couple, especially Lizzie, seem to have filled the void by reaching out, particularly to youth of the community. Lizzie's nephew, LaMoine Brown, recalled making frequent trips with his aunt to Hastings wholesalers to pick up supplies for the store. "I was pretty little; I can't imagine I was too much help," Brown said. "I think she took me mainly for the company." Pauline resident Lois Mohlman recalled as a child Lizzie spiriting her and a girlfriend away to the county fair, "just for fun." And, she said, as an added bonus, "Lizzie had to visit with everyone, so we got to stay out late."

In keeping with their opposite natures Owen, on the other hand, was someone that store patrons sought out to lend an ear to their problems, said J. Rolland Post, Pauline-area resident. "People would come in there and tell him their complaints and he'd listen. He didn't give advice; mostly he'd just listen.

"The store was largely Owen's domain, both Swanson and Alexander said of their father. "We didn't see a lot of him at home because he was always at the store," Alexander said. As a businessman, Owen was a meticulous recordkeeper, capable of adding long columns of numbers in his head, said granddaughter Paula Duncan. "He was really mathematical and very intelligent," she added. Unfailingly patient with Duncan as a small child while she sat on his lap and played with the pencils in his pocket, he taught her to count change and run the store's cash register as she grew older. By the end of his lifetime he'd acquired a collection of books that numbered in the hundreds, most of them academic in nature.

Community Involvement

Owen's talents were not confined to the business, however, as he served as treasurer of the Pauline School board from 1931-46.

"He was pretty well-liked, well-respected," said J. Rolland Post of Owen's community leadership. "What he said went, and he didn't change his mind."

Into the 1960s both Owen and Lizzie took part in the school district's annual meetings, often making or seconding motions relative to routine business. In June of 1945 Lizzie and other board members' wives were paid for cleaning the schoolhouse, with Lizzie's share being $14.00. She occasionally was among the list of visitors to the school, and Lizzie's youngest sister Sarah recalled in an interview with this author that the couple boarded school teacher Lillian Muir during the 1922-23 school year.

At various times during the 1930s, '40s and '50s both Owen and Lizzie served on the election board of the Little Blue voting precinct. During the 1940s the Evanses were among a group of people who participated in a cleanup of the Oak Creek Cemetery where many of the community's early residents were buried, said Kathy Seeman, a current board member. The group then organized an association to oversee upkeep and administration of the cemetery. Records show that Owen served as president, secretary and treasurer from 1941-45. He then served as board member from 1947 until his death in 1963. At that time Lizzie took his place on the board, a position she held until 1982.

Pauline Methodist Church

In terms of community involvement, however, the Evanses are most remembered for their dedication to Pauline Methodist Church. Local residents recall that Owen served as church treasurer for many years, likely through the 1930s, '40s and '50s, although exact dates are not known. Church records reflect the couple's involvement in numerous other capacities. In the year 1930, for example, Owen is listed as trustee and a member of both finance and nominating committees; in 1936 he was trustee and Sunday school superintendent. For years, both Owen and Lizzie taught Sunday school every week. Lizzie taught children – toddlers through teens – over the years, while Owen led adult classes, said nephew LaMoine Brown.

"I just remember him as a very kind, religious guy," said Brown, adding that his uncle always donned a suit and tie for church. During the week Owen never went to bed without first reading a chapter of his Bible, said his daughter, Doris Alexander.

Service to the church wasn't always high-profile, however. At times, Brown said, Owen would make up the difference to the church treasury when weekly offerings fell short of expenses. Another nephew of Lizzie's, Edward Anderson, recalled that, in the absence of a janitor, Owen occasionally had to go to church early on Sunday mornings to "stoke up the fire". Under no circumstances, Anderson added, did the couple miss Sunday services, even when it meant arriving late at family gatherings.

Just as farming hadn't been Owen's bag, being a stay-at-home wife and mother was not where Lizzie was happiest, said Alexander. Lizzie was iA calendar dating to 1963 that was given out by the Evans store. Courtesy of Donna Knight.A calendar dating to 1963 that was given out by the Evans store. Courtesy of Donna Knight.n her element when out and about in the community. The King's Daughters of Pauline Methodist Church was particularly near and dear to her heart. Records show that in 1925 Lizzie was involved with canvassing for painting of the church. In addition, she helped serve luncheons, was on the flower committee and sang in the choir. Lizzie and her sister Sarah frequently sang at funerals, and both played in a kazoo band, the Kitchen Kabinet Orchestra, to help raise money for the church. Ice cream socials, box suppers, bake sales, May basket projects and plays were all woven into the fabric of church life.

Lizzie's involvement with the church also provided an outlet for her creative talents. Alexander recalled that her mother once enlisted a local man to build a wooden box outfitted with tripod, light bulb and a meat roller from the store. She then cut and pasted together large biblical pictures from Owen's religious calendars, wrapping them around the hand-cranked meat roller. With the light shining through the box, the images could then be projected onto a wall, displayed as a moving picture for her Sunday school class.

"She did some neat things in life that didn't cost anything," Alexander said.

Outreach to local youth was an important component of church life. Former Pauline resident Gladys Bohlen recalled that when a move from an area farm into town necessitated a change in church membership for her family, Lizzie was instrumental in getting the Bohlen children to Sunday School: "She would stand outside and holler to us, 'Now don't forget!' . . . I can still hear her," Bohlen said.

The Evanses occasionally hosted Methodist Youth Fellowship in their home, and Lizzie would serve snacks, said Pauline resident Lois Mohlman. They patiently endured the teens' playing with an old drum set they had on their porch, she added. Mohlman was part of a girls' singing group from church that Lizzie accompanied on the piano. On Sunday afternoons Owen drove Lizzie and the girls to surrounding towns such as Harvard, Edgar, Blue Hill and Hastings to entertain at area nursing homes, Mohlman said. The couple also could be counted on to drive youths to 4-H and school music competitions in Roseland and Lincoln, said family friend Wilma Jones of Hastings. Jones and Alexander were classmates at Pauline School.

Later Family Life

Doris Alexander added that, as a youth, she became fairly skilled at playing boogie-woogie tunes on the piano, but had to practice these when Lizzie wasn't home. "Mom wouldn't let us play pop tunes," she said. After school she and sister Ruth each took turns watching at the door for their mother while the other practiced popular musical numbers of the day. Lizzie set high standards of behavior for her daughters, Alexander said. They weren't allowed to attend dances or outdoor movies. In keeping with the practice of the day, she was not particularly demonstrative of her love. In the latter years of her life, Alexander said, Lizzie expressed remorse over this fact. While always supporting his wife in the behavioral standards she set for their children, Owen was more expressive with their children. "He was always such a gentle man," Alexander said, adding that he often read to her and her sister when they were young.

Lizzie was the dominant figure in the home and at times could be short-tempered, Alexander said. But she strove to provide her daughters with every opportunity possible, including music lessons. "In that way we got the best," Alexander said, noting that her mother had fostered in her a lifelong love of music. Due to her mother's impetus, Alexander was the featured singer at Pauline High School's 1941 baccalaureate and commencement. 4-H was also high on the priority list for the Evans daughters. When Alexander thought she'd completed all possible courses of study through the organization, her mother insisted she take forestry. Still, at times, a sense of humor prevailed. "She was just like a kid herself," Wilma Jones, Alexander's girlhood friend, said of Lizzie. Of the many hours she spent in the Evans home, Jones said, "He (Owen) would sit and read his Bible, and we'd sit and giggle, and Lizzie would join in."

A Plethora of Interests

No doubt her daughters' activities helped feed Lizzie's interest in the outside world. Given that she received only an eighth-grade education and spent nearly all of her adult life in a community that was typically home to no more than 100 residents, her interest in and contact with the outside world is truly amazing. An avid collector, Lizzie belonged to a coin collectors' group in Hastings, acquiring thousands of coins during her lifetime, Alexander said. Many of these she categorized and put into books for her grandchildren. A vintage button collection sewn onto a dress, membership in an international button society, and a salt-and-pepper shaker collection that numbered over 1,000 pairs also were among her endeavors. Granddaughter Paula Duncan recalled that one of her tasks as a child was to dust and count the shakers – a job she felt privileged to perform. The Pauline Post Office, housed in the Evanses' store from 1923-67, fostered Lizzie's interest in stamp collecting, Alexander said, noting that her mother particularly delighted in stamps on letters from relatives still living in Wales.

"Grandma just loved kids, just loved us, just loved us all." - Paula Duncan, granddaughter

Lizzie loved entertaining, and she and Owen always hosted Christmas dinner for their extended family. Duncan recalled driving with her grandmother to area farms to get fresh cream with which to make homemade ice cream for family dinners. As the couple's only granddaughter, Duncan sometimes received special attention from Lizzie, who would make it a point to show her samples of heirloom needlework or other items of interest to girls.

"Grandma just loved kids, just loved us, just loved us all," Duncan said. "She had a big heart." Indeed, the author of this article recalls that a visit to the store as a young child in the mid- to late 1960s meant being showered with hugs and kisses from both Lizzie and the store's postmistress, Eleanor Poen.

Twilight Years

"Grandma was proud of their standing in the community, their store and Grandpa," Duncan said. But there came a day when the world came to a standstill. The quiet, overall-clad storekeeper who daily drank a glass of warm water for health succumbed to stomach cancer. Owen, 73, died while undergoing surgery on July 25, 1963. Three days later funeral mourners overflowed the Pauline Methodist Church, the line of people spilling down the steps and into the street, said the couple's daughter. "I was just overwhelmed," saidLizzie and Owen Evans are pictured in front of their store in Pauline during the 1960s. From left are grandson Kim Swanson; unidentified woman; Mrs. Fate; Lizzie and Owen. Child is unidentified. Courtesy of Marlyce Brown.Lizzie and Owen Evans are pictured in front of their store in Pauline during the 1960s. From left are grandson Kim Swanson; unidentified woman; Mrs. Fate; Lizzie and Owen. Child is unidentified. Courtesy of Marlyce Brown. Alexander. "He was just adored by everybody, and must have been wonderful to everybody."

"He was the kindest, sweetest man there ever was," said Pauline resident Lois Mohlman. "If ever there was anything he could do for someone, he would."

Lizzie forged ahead, just as she had done decades earlier after losing her young son. She continued to operate the store until October of 1968, when she sold the business; three years later it closed. Her retirement years were full, as she maintained a lively interest in music, needlework arts, collecting and travel. Lizzie played kazoo with the Golden Age Entertainers of Hastings Good Samaritan Village, even traveling out of state with the group. Bus tours were another activity she enjoyed. Church involvement remained a priority; at age 76 she was president of Pauline's United Methodist Women. Sundays after church she frequently drove to Minden, taking in the sights at Pioneer Village. In 1980, following the eruption of Mount St. Helen's, Lizzie brought back to Pauline a jar of volcanic ash she'd collected on a visit to Washington state.

Into the 1980s Lizzie continued to welcome area youths into her home, encouraging their musical talents and teaching needlework arts, such as tatting and crochet. An old-fashioned pump organ, a trunk filled with colorful, handmade quilts, a mannequin wearing the vintage button dress, flowering plants in bloom, and hundreds of salt-and-pepper shakers were among the novelties that piqued the curiosity of young visitors to her home.

Failing health forced a move to Washington State in 1982 to be near her daughters. She suffered from Alzheimer's Disease in the latter years of her life. Lizzie, 90, died Feb. 23, 1989, in Bellevue, WA. J. Rolland Post and his elder brother Bernard both served as pallbearers for the funeral. She was laid to rest at the Oak Creek Cemetery south of Pauline, alongside Owen and their small son. The Pauline community that Owen and Lizzie Evans so faithfully served is mostly silent now, left to yesteryear by changing times and technology. But the quiet kindness of the storekeeper and the exuberant zeal of his wife remain forever etched in the hearts of those they befriended.

*A version of this story originally appeared in "Historical News," Vol. 44, No. 3; published by the Adams County Historical Society in 2011. Written by Carla S. Post.

**From autobiography of Sarah Anderson Brown, "Memories of My Childhood and Growing Up," courtesy of Marlyce Brown.

Evans/Anderson Family In The News

"The "Jolly Workers" met at the home of Mrs. O.G. Evans Tuesday evening." –"PAULINE" The Hastings Democrat, Thursday, March 8, 1928

"The Jolly Workers met for their project work lesson at the home of Mrs. Otto McDonald Friday afternoon. After the business meeting, which was in charge of the president, Mrs. Roy Black, the lesson was presented by the project leader, Mrs. Walter Gartner. She gave several new methods of using bias tape as trimming as well as binding. She also showed how to use attachments which come with sewing machines but are not used because the housewife is not familiar with them and their time-saving values. Those present were Mrs. Tom Emel, Mrs. Dan Schnuerle, Mrs. S.C. Gould, Mrs. O.G. Evans, Mrs. Roy Black, Mrs. H.E. Post, Mrs. John Post, Jr., Mrs. Harvey Jones, Mrs. Walter Gartner, Mrs. William Palmer. Mrs. James McCleery and Hilda Duden were visitors. Mrs. H.E. Post and Mrs. Roy Black were assistant hostesses. The next meeting will be held at the O.G. Evans home with Mrs. Tom Emel and Mrs. Harvey Jones assisting hostesses."  – "Pauline Items" by Mrs. Harvey Jones, The Hastings Democrat, Thursday, Jan. 24, 1929

"A quilting bee was held at the Edward Anderson home Wednesday." – "Pauline Items" by Mrs. Harvey Jones, The Hastings Democrat, Thursday, Jan. 31, 1929

Lizzie is pictured here with her sisters and two young daughters. From left are Sarah Anderson holding Doris Evans; Mattie Anderson and Lizzie; Ruth Evans is standing in front of Mattie. Photo is courtesy of Marlyce Brown.Lizzie is pictured here with her sisters and two young daughters. From left are Sarah Anderson holding Doris Evans; Mattie Anderson and Lizzie; Ruth Evans is standing in front of Mattie. Photo is courtesy of Marlyce Brown."Mr. and Mrs. Edward Anderson and daughters, Mattie and Sarah and Mrs. O.G. Evans and her small daughters, Ruth and Doris were KMMJ visitors at Clay Center, Monday." –"Pauline Items" by Mrs. Harvey Jones, The Hastings Democrat, Thursday, May 28, 1931

"Mr. and Mrs. Edward Anderson of Pauline entertained at dinner on Sunday the following guests: Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Rutherford and family and Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Weingart, all of Hastings, and Mrs. And Mrs. O.G. Evans and daughters. Mrs. And Mrs. Roy Anderson and family joined the group later in the day." – "From the Leader Files, 75 years ago - 1937," by Audrey Peil, Blue Hill Leader, May 10, 2012.

"Visitors in the home of O.G. Evans last Monday evening were Mr. and Mrs. Ed Anderson, Mr. and Mrs. Vern Brown of Hastings, Mr. and Mrs. Merle Brown, Mrs. Kate Anderson and Mattie, and Mrs. Phil Swanson, Kim and Paula of Seattle, Washington." –"From the Leader Files, 50 years ago . . . 1962,"  by Audrey Peil, Blue Hill Leader, August 2, 2012