James Lewis Evenson, 93, passed in his sleep on September 19, 2020 at Horizon House in Anchorage, Alaska.
Jim was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 1, 1927. He grew up and went to high school in Oak Park, Illinois. He was an excellent musician playing many instruments: string, brass and keyboard. He was considered one of the best cornet players in the Chicago area. His main interests besides music were art and journalism. Oak Park High School also graduated Ernest Hemingway.
After high school graduation in 1945 Jim entered the US Navy and was training on an LST on the west coast when the war ended. Jim attended Grinnell College in Iowa where he received a BA majoring in art. Jim then taught high school in Ames, Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa and received an MA in Art History and MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at the top of his class.
Jim taught art at Cornell College in Iowa for several years from 1953-55 during which time he met his future wife Nedra Thorsrud Riebe of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Jim and Nedra were married August 19, 1954. Jim was a voracious reader and Nedra said to him regarding Alaska, "You are always reading and talking about it, let's go!" So in the spring of 1955 Jim, Nedra, Thor, and a student from Alaska Mary Joanne Thompson headed to Alaska in a Jeep and a Frazier Vagabond. Since Mary was from Kenai, that is where they went, and stayed the summer in Stan Thompson's (future borough mayor) beach shack below Kenai on Cook Inlet. Jim got involved in Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishing that summer and at the end of the season bought the Mabel E an old wooden cannery boat from Seldovia Bay Packers.
After teaching one more year at Cornell College, the family returned to Alaska to fish and stayed. Jim taught two years 1956-1958 at Anchorage High School (currently West High). Jim and Nedra then homesteaded on Bishop Lake in Nikiski, Alaska and Jim taught English and art at Kenai Central High School. He later coached the basketball team until 1974 and for many years Jim enjoyed playing on a Kenai city league basketball team, the Harborview Hogs.
Jim continued to paint. Nedra and Jim traveled to Malaga, Spain where Jim took a sabbatical to study stone lithography in 1970-71.
They moved permanently to the new house and studio on Bishop and Marie Lakes after the loop road was constructed in 1971 in Nikiski. In addition to teaching at Kenai Central High, independently Jim taught several adult art classes. Jim's art work was displayed in numerous galleries and shows in Alaska including the Anchorage Museum, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, the Kenai Fine Art Center, and in the lower 48 states. Jim served on the Alaska State Council on the Arts from 2004-6 and the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank holds several of his works.
Jim remained very active in fishing, painting and lithography after his high school teaching retirement. He asked Thor to design and Kevin Moren to build the Nedra E an aluminum boat which he fished to his fishing retirement in 1994. At that time Jim sold the Nedra E to his nephew Chuck who later sold it to Jim's grandson Taylor; that very much pleased Jim and Nedra. Jim also became involved in the politics of commercial fishing serving on the United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) and the United Fishermen of Alaska. Jim was the first UCIDA President serving from 1981-1985.
Jim and Nedra were involved in the United Methodist Church and the community in Kenai. In 2004 Jim and Nedra donated a portion of their homestead on Marie Lake to the Nikiski Seniors to build senior apartments and the Nikiski Senior Center. The homestead was Jim's favorite place on earth. He loved the people of the Kenai area and had many friends. One of his favorite activities was playing banjo in jam sessions in the Kenai and Soldotna area.
Jim's participation was requested on many boards and committees around the state where his contributions had significant impact. He was admired by many and widely respected by both friends and foes in his numerous posts ranging from high school basketball coach to President of UCIDA. His council was welcome due to his fairness, his sensitivity to and appreciation of the concerns of all, an all too rare penchant in an increasingly divided world. He naturally guided all discussion to the next level. He was a pillar of his much-loved community. Jim was a generous, sensitive, and talented man who is greatly missed.
Jim was survived by his beloved wife Nedra, who then passed this May 28, 2021; his son Thor Evenson and grandson Taylor Evenson all of Anchorage; his nephew Chuck Thorsrud of Homer and his family; and his sister Kathryn Barnett, 90, of Nampa, Idaho, her 4 children Ron, Dave, Tom, & Jenny, and their extended families.
Friends and family, please join us for a celebration of Jim and Nedra's lives this summer on Sunday, August 22th at 1pm at the family homestead in Nikiski. Please PLEASE RSVP: 907-274-4242 or [email protected]
In lieu of flowers, the family requests any donations in Jim's honor be made to the United Methodist Church of Kenai, the Kenai Fine Arts Center, and United Cook Inlet Drifters Association. Thank you!
Published by Peninsula Clarion on Jul. 4, 2021.