Trivial pursuit time: Who has worn ties since he was a small tot, worked as a migrant farm worker and slept in the back window of his family’s car only to one day earn enormous financial and political success?
Answer: Payson’s Mayor Kenny Evans.
More than a dozen elementary-aged children got a rare glimpse into Evans’ life Thursday, including his likes, dislikes, family history and why his hand looks so funny.
The students were allowed to ask Evans anything they liked and the questions ranged from the serious to the goofy, such as had he arrived in a limo? (No)
Evans bandaged hand was the hot topic at the SonShine Club after-school child care program, where 17 children huddled around Evans as he sat on the floor to discuss his work as mayor.
Evans was one of roughly eight guests that spoke to the gregarious group during fall break.
“This year, during fall break our area of focus is on ‘Our Town’ — getting to know the community of Payson. All of the field trips and special guests are involved in playing a part in creating the community of Payson,” said Jennifer Hinkie, SonShine Club marketing director.
Evans’ story is a true rags to riches tale.
Evans was born in Twin Falls, Idaho and grew up with his mother and father, a brother, Lorus, and a sister, Diane. His family migrated early in Kenny’s life to California hoping to find gold, but ended up working as migrant workers in the fields.
One child asked the mayor what was the hardest thing he has ever had to do.
Evans responded that hard sometimes means physically hard and sometimes it means mentally hard or spiritually hard.
“The most physically hard thing I did was be a migrant farm worker,” he said. “We went from town to town harvesting crops and we lived in an old car ’til I was 5 years old.”
Another child asked if his brother or sister were mean to him.
Evans acknowledged that there may have been times when he was bullied, but overall when he looks back, he focuses on the good times.
“We were really very poor. I slept in the back window. We didn’t know where our next meal would come from,” he said.
While his brother and sister took to the car’s floor or back seat, Evans said he had the prime stargazing spot from the small perch in the back of the vehicle.
Every night he looked up at the starry night sky, he dreamed of a better life.
Evans’ ambition formed early and is hinted at in an early photo he shared with the children.
Evans held two scratchy black and white photocopies up of six children. He asked the SonShine children to spot which one he was. One eager boy pointed to a 7-year-old boy wearing a tie and suspenders.
“Right,” Evans said. “I like to wear ties. I bet I was born with a tie on.”
“Did you come in a limo?” a child asked, following a string of questions from other campers.
“No, I think I have only been in a limo a handful of times.”
How long have you been mayor?”
“Three years,” Evans said.
“What happened to your hand?” a girl asked.
“We will get to that soon,” Evans said, leaving the children in suspense an entire hour before revealing why he wears a bandage over his right hand.
“What was your favorite subject in school?”
“In middle school it was math and in high school it was girls,” Evans laughed. “But I always loved science.”
“What happened to your hand?”
“We will get to that,” Evans said.
“Where is your favorite place in Payson?”
“On top of a mountain where the new ASU campus will be,” he said.
Evans said the new ASU campus, expected to open in two to three years now that ASU has signed a memorandum of understanding, will be one of the greenest colleges in the country. The college will sit on 300 acres of Forest Service land, currently the site of the Payson Ranger Station, off Highway 260.
The college will produce its own electricity and recycle all of its waste. Students will park their vehicles at the entrance to the college and either walk or bike to class. No vehicles will be allowed on campus.
Evans said students will learn to live with the environment in one of the most unique colleges to date.
“How will Payson change?” one child asked. “Will there be floating cars?” another chimed in.
The college will bring new people to town and with that will come more shopping, restaurants and hotels, Evans said.
Another child asked if Evans was in charge of running the whole country.
“I don’t even run my own house,” he laughed.
“What happened to your hand?”
Finally, Evans explained the mystery behind the white bandage on his hand.
While inspecting an electrical box on a piece of property he had purchased, Evans tried to push some loose wires back into the box. When he did, the current arced from the electrical box to him, completing the circuit and allowing the voltage to travel through his body, exiting out his hand and knees.
Both of his knees were blown out, his heart stopped and half of his right hand was burned off. Doctors told him the current was 2,000 to 3,000 degrees and he was lucky to be alive.
The mayor’s thumb and index finger were amputated and today he must wear a covering over the hand to protect the area.
“The current came out both knees like a volcano,” Evans said.
Each of the students stared in awe at Evans, his formidable tale every bit as exciting as they had hoped.
“What’s your favorite thing in the whole universe?” a child asked.
“My family,” he said. “More than being mayor or entertaining famous people.”
The mayor is married with five children and 10 grandchildren. His youngest son was killed at 16 while riding his bicycle. A car drifted onto the shoulder and and struck the teen, killing him instantly.
The accident “is part of the reason I am in Payson,” he said.
After losing his mother, father and son, Kenny and his wife decided to leave the business world and enter public service.
He liquidated his holdings and bought a home in Payson, eventually deciding to run for mayor after a brief stint in retirement.
After giving his story, the students hugged Evans and bounded off to their next activity, huge smiles on their faces.
The mayor was one of the last visitors on the fall break schedule.
Students also visited with the director of marketing at Payson Regional Medical Center, went to the post office, toured the Rim Country Museum and Payson Public Library, learned about making pizza at The Pizza Factory and heard Wally Davis Jr., historian for the Tonto Apache Tribe, share the tribe’s history.
SonShine is a nonprofit, licensed facility that serves K-12 students.
The program is housed at the Payson United Methodist Church, 414 N. Easy St.
The curriculum-based program offers tutoring and homework assistance to students during the school year.
“Break times allow us time to explore chosen areas of interest in more depth,” Hinkie said.
“For example, during the summer 2010 break, we chose “Recycled Art,” as a focus and held our own art show in conjunction with First Friday and the Artists of the Rim Gallery in August.