Joel Evans

Joel Evans, known for his woodworking skills and volunteer civic efforts, died Sunday at his home in Midway. He was 76.

Mr. Evans' career also included work as a physicist and student of the philosophy of science.

"He was complex and had so many interests," said Ricka White, who with her late husband, Patrick White, co-owned a Lexington woodworking shop, the Unfinished Universe, with Mr. Evans. "He was a huge person in stature and in fact."

She said Mr. Evans was affectionately referred to on more than one occasion as "the smartest redneck you'd ever meet."

He was a physics instructor at the University of Virginia and was working on his doctorate at the University of Kentucky during the time of the Vietnam protests.

"We got ourselves in trouble at that point," recalled Mr. Evans' wife of 56 years, Joyce McClendon Evans.

After deciding to leave UK, Mr. Evans teamed with the Whites to form the Unfinished Universe, which operated from 1972 until 2001.

The largely self-taught woodworkers became known for their craftsmanship, particularly their ability to restore historic furniture.

They did work for the governor's mansion and historic sites such as the Mary Todd Lincoln House.

"They did a lot of political arguing around there, and then they did a little woodworking on the side," Joyce Evans joked.

White said Mr. Evans had an irreverant, generous nature.

"The Unfinished Universe never made any money, and Joel was a good part of that reason," she said.

Mr. Evans enjoyed portraying Santa each year for Midway's downtown holiday celebrations. He also volunteered at the library, helped create a Tree Board in Midway and served with the Kentucky River Watershed Watch program. In 2004, he was honored by the governor for "outstanding volunteer service," which included organizing an effort to create a park from a wooded area near Midway's Northside Elementary School.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Evans is survived by three children, Joel Evans, Sara Day Evans and Amy Axon, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be 4 to 5 p.m. Friday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Main Street, followed by a memorial service.

Published in Lexington Herald-Leader from June 6 to July 6, 2012