Stepping down, but not out Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

The story of Dan Evans’ time in jail explains his dedication to law enforcement officers and their fight against drugs.

Be assured, the board chairman and retiring CEO of Bob Evans Farms Inc. was not behind bars because of any wrongdoing — simply because of youthful curiosity.

“I like police people,” Evans explains. “When I was growing up in Gallipolis, I used to run around with the policemen. Back then, they didn’t arrest very many people.”

It seems as a 10-year-old, Evans was fascinated with the town jail. He wandered inside to get a closer look, but before he knew it, the officers, in jest, had closed the doors behind him, leaving him to await the jailer’s return to free him from his predicament.

“It was probably 10 minutes,” Evans muses, “but it seemed like an hour.”

Evans’ youthful fascination with police officers turned into active involvement in law enforcement organizations as he grew older.

Evans, 63, is a past board chairman of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police’s charitable arm, the Law Enforcement Foundation. Next year he’ll chair its annual fund drive, which finances D.A.R.E. training and the Police Executive Leadership College.

Evans says D.A.R.E., a program in which police officers work with students to keep them free of drugs and violence, is for him likely the most important charity he supports.

“I hate drugs,” Evans says emphatically. “I think if there’s some way to fight that situation, these people will grow up to be better people.”

Evans’ ongoing dedication to law enforcement is obvious with a look around his office: A statue on the corner of his desk, a police officer holding the hand of a small boy, is an award from the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, which so appreciated Evans’ support that he is the only person ever given the title of its honorary president. Another plaque honors his dedication to FBI officers; still others, his D.A.R.E. involvement.

In fact, a tour of the small office gives a visitor an inside view of the man who, in 1971, was elected chairman and CEO to succeed his father, Emerson E. Evans, at the helm of Bob Evans Farms.

Just inside the door to the right is a saddle he won at the 1991 All-American Quarter Horse Congress in a contest of cattle cutting, in which horsemen ride into a group of cattle to drive a calf out of it.

“The prize came with some money, but I don’t remember how much. What I really wanted was that saddle,” Evans says. “I rode 10 years to try to win it.”

Siding from a barn he owned in Southern Ohio lines large portions of the walls of his office, as does a poster of John Wayne and pigskin from Evans’ Canal Winchester farm.

Above the fireplace mantel on the left are the head and forefeet of a bear, which Evans hunted in Kodiak, Alaska. On the north wall hang mounts of an antelope and a deer. He also points out the mount of a Dall sheep, which came from what Evans calls his toughest hunt — at 10,000 feet in Alaska.

Beside the fireplace, a glass cabinet showcases photos of Evans’ five children and three grandchildren; on the other side, there’s a Brutus Buckeye figure and some of Evans’ 25 hunting guns.

He shyly opens a closet, filled head-high with ribbons, awards and honors he has received through the years.

“I’ll have to go through this one day,” he says, adding he’ll remain here for a while as the company’s chairman. He’ll fill his retirement time with continuing roles on the boards of National City Corp., Motorists Mutual Insurance Co. and Sherwin-Williams Co.; working with Evans Enterprises Inc., a real estate company he founded that is run by his brother; helping his son Ryan with his rodeo business; and enjoying his hunting and horse hobbies.

They’re not as much fun as running this company, but I enjoy doing them,” he says of his other activities.

Still, he turns his CEO post over to company president and COO Stewart K. Owens with the knowledge that the business is near reaching one of his long-term goals: Sales of $1 billion, a milepost he expects to see in March or April next year.

He’s quick to spread the credit, noting that developing loyalty of employees makes a successful leader.

“I don’t believe that managing people is using scare tactics. They develop their own pressure when you develop loyalty — they put pressure on themselves,” he says of his 32,000 employees.

“The biggest focus I’ve had over the period of years is people,” Evans says. “I just don’t think you can build a company without having strong people. I don’t think I’ve built this company. I’ve given leadership to it, but I think the people have really built the company.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.