What in the world do you give your wife of 50 years on her 75th birthday? Dan Evans Sr. spent a lot of time pondering this question. He was determined that the gift “be lasting and reflect what Nancy really loves, and that’s music.”

Finally, he hit upon just the right thing: a gift to honor both his wife’s love of music and her devotion to Whitman College. He created the Nancy Bell Evans Distinguished Lecturer in Music Endowment.

Dan and Nancy Bell Evans Dan and Nancy Bell Evans ’54

“It’s a memorial to my love for her,” said Dan, a former Washington State governor and U.S. senator. “This will support the college and the music department for many years to come. We hope that both students and faculty will be the beneficiaries, just as Nancy was a student at Whitman and a beneficiary of many scholarships and other help.”

“I had no inkling that he was working on this. It was a wonderful surprise,” said Nancy, a longtime Whitman volunteer and trustee emerita. She was honored by the Alumni Association earlier this year with the Gordon Scribner Award for Distinguished Service for her tireless civic service and volunteer efforts for the college.

“My whole experience in Whitman’s music conservatory was a positive one,” Nancy said, recalling with special fondness her music professors Kenneth Schilling and William “Bill” Bailey and her piano teachers, as well as the enjoyment of singing with the choir.

“I’ve always felt very grateful to Whitman College because it was a school I really wanted to attend, but there was a question of whether I could afford to go there,” Nancy said. With the college’s constant support, she earned scholarships and found jobs (often as a piano accompanist) that made it possible for her not only to attend Whitman but also to fund her music lessons, which cost extra. Ultimately, she graduated with a degree in music and an education minor, then worked as an elementary school music teacher before becoming the youngest first lady in the state’s history.

Nancy’s love for her Whitman experiences and opportunities has fostered the couple’s long-term — and multilayered — approach to supporting Whitman and its music department. Their earlier gift to create the Lilith J. Bell and Nancy Bell Evans Music Scholarship Endowment to help students pay for music lessons sparked the idea for the lectureship endowment, which Dan established with his $250,000 birthday surprise. The lectureship will provide recognition and salary support for an outstanding music department faculty member who is a lecturer or senior lecturer. The couple’s hope is that with a planned future testamentary gift the lectureship will grow into a professorship.

“I’m so pleased that Whitman has continued its endeavors to help students with financial need as much as possible. It’s always been part of Whitman’s way of doing things,” Nancy said. “There are many deserving students who have so much talent and so much wisdom and so much curiosity about life. I want them to be able to come to Whitman and seek out answers and sources of information. And to be able to enjoy and appreciate and learn from what Whitman has to offer.”

— Lana Brown