by Jim Evans (Olen’s son)
Olen Evans was born November 15, 1902. He was the second child and oldest son of Joe and Minnie Evans. The family lived in Anderson County, Tennessee, for several years. They lived in an area near the Big Ridge State Park. The author remembers his dad telling of the horrible road conditions in Anderson County at that time. Olen said the roads were just ruts in the mud in the wintertime. The mud holes were so deep that cars became stuck and the Evans family was called on quite often to hitch up a team of horses to pull them out. Fences were built near the road and therefore, it was almost impossible for cars to pass in many places. A trip to Knoxville took many hours and, at times in the winter. was almost impossible. Olen said the county offered to widen the main road if the people would donate a little bit of property. But, the people would not give up even one foot of land. Very little is known of Olen’s early life in Anderson County but, his brother, Oscar, once said “We were the two oldest boys and we had to do all the heavy farming because the rest of the boys in the family were too young to do the hard work We would go out in the woods and fields and work long hours cutting firewood and tending the farm.”
The family moved from Anderson County to the Powell community in about 1920. Olen attended Powell High School and graduated on May 15, 1924. Upon completion of high school Olen was granted a one year certificate to teach school. He taught for at least one year at Copper Hill in Knox county.
Shortly after graduation Olen was married to a local Powell Station girlfriend, Julia Tillery. However, in June 1926 both mother and child died during childbirth.
Olen began managing one of the White Stores (a chain of grocery stores in the Knoxville area) about this time in his life. And there at a monthly store meeting he met Emma Allen who was manager of another White Store. In a news letter published in 1928 by the White Stores the following announcement appears:
Mr. and Mrs. Leonard E. Allen
announce the marriage of their sister
Emma E. Allen to
Mr. Olen Evans Tuesday April 17th. 1928
First Baptist Church, Knoxville Tennessee
Olen and Emma were married in the middle of the depression. Sometime after their marriage they purchased their first house. After paying on this house for a year they learned that there was a second mortgage on the property. They were unable to prevent foreclosure on the house This was one of many financial struggles they would face in the years to come. Olen worked for many different employers during these depression years.
The first addition to the family came on November 5, 1929, when Ernest Gordon (E.G.) was born. Slightly over two years later on Jan 1, 1932, son James Olen was added to complete the family.
The author remembers the family living in Anderson County for a period of time. Then we lived in Inskip for at least one year. In 1937 we moved on Wells Street in downtown Powell Station.
By 1937 both Olen and his brother, Oscar, were working for a large wholesale hardware company called the C. M. McClung and Co. Both would remain employed there for many years.
During these years, on his way to and from work, Olen hauled passengers on a daily basis. There was no bus service from Powell Station at that time. These passengers all paid a ride bill to help with the gas and car expense. I remember a time when the heater on the car Olen was driving was not adequate for extremely cold weather. On these mornings Olen would heat bricks on the stove before he left and place them in the floorboard of the car to help keep the lady passengers warm. In about 1939 the family moved from Wells Street to Constantine Road (now known as Beaver Creek Drive) still in the Powell Station area. The family would live there in a rental house until the boys were grown.
Sometime in about 1944 Olen left the C. M. McClung and Co. and began a hardware business he would manage for the next few years. The business was a partnership deal where the other partner furnished the financial backing and Olen furnished the management and labor. The business was named Farmers Exchange and was located on Patton street in Knoxville. From the beginning the business thrived. When World War II ended in 1945 products suddenly became available that had been rationed or scarce for many months. People would almost stand in line to buy stoves, refrigerators and etc. These years proved to be the most profitable that Olen would ever enjoy.
By 1948 Olen decided he would like to operate his own business. He purchased land at the corner of Central Avenue Pike and Emory Road. He then had a block building built and started a business named Evans Market. Now, Olen and Emma were back where they had started- in the grocery business. The author remembers that when the building was finished and ready for business that Olen said “We still have not had to go in debt.” (While writing this it just occurred to the author that not only was Evans Market built in 1948, but, scarcely a mile away in Powell, Evans Cleaners was built in this same year by Olen’s brother, Woodrow.)
Evans Market – circa 1970
The depression years had embedded memories that would help the Evans Market to be a success. Olen was generous and would almost give things away. And he would likely have extended credit to almost anyone that walked into the store. Wife, Emma, however, pulled in the reins and made sure the business was profitable. Olen was somewhat gullible and on one occasion while Emma was away for a lunch break he encountered a salesman who persuaded him to buy an assortment of ladies fancy dress hats. He was told he would make a handsome profit on the deal. When Emma returned she pitched a fit. She said “Who ever heard of a country grocery store selling ladies Sunday hats.” Olen showed the hats to every woman that entered the store and little by little he sold the majority of them. But his entire family teased him about the hats for months to come.
Although housed in a tiny building by today’s standards, the Evans Market provided seed, feed, hardware, gas and groceries in a rural area that was hungry for convenient shopping. By 1953 Olen and Emma had purchased the adjoining property and built a new house. A sidewalk led from the store parking lot to the house. No one can begin to imagine the pride Olen had showing off his new home. To begin to share his feelings you have to remember that Olen and Emma lost their first home by foreclosure. Secondly, they had been forced to raise their family in run down rental properties all those years. Finally, after the boys were grown he owned his own home.
These were the good years. (1953-1964) Olen and Emma worked side by side running the store. In the mornings Emma would stay home and straighten up the house while Olen opened the store and waited on the early customers. Later when Emma arrived at the store Olen would venture over in the yard of the new house and work in flower beds and fertilize and water the lawn.
On April 23, 1964 Olen died of cerebral hemorrhage at St. Marys Hospital in Knoxville. He was buried in Tennessee Valley Memorial Gardens (now known as Woodhaven) located in Anderson County ,Tennessee.
WHAT WAS OLEN REALLY LIKE
Words like quiet, shy, naive, gullible, honest, dependable, consistent, pleasant and lovable help somewhat to describe Olen. He moved a bit slower than most people. But, at the end of the day Olen was still able to go when everyone else had quit long ago. He was a workaholic. He worked six days a week almost all of his life. Although not brilliant, Olen made sound business decisions.
Olen lived a scheduled life. He was so consistent you could almost set your watch by his routine. He loved people and treated everyone tenderly. He was a Christian. Everyone in his family went to church on Sunday. The author never heard Olen use any foul or vulgar language during all his years at home. No alcoholic beverages were ever present in his home. Olen never raised his voice.
When Olen was younger and his boys were at home he would quite often visit his father, Joe, or one of his brothers on a typical Sunday afternoon. However, in later years Olen was perfectly satisfied to stay at home after church. He and Emma never took a vacation away from home. He seldom traveled outside of Knox county. It seemed that Olen was content to work where he met people all week and that satisfied all of his social needs.
Even though Olen was not really outgoing, he had lots of friends. Since he was never moody people loved to joke around with him. And like all of the Evans family Olen loved a good wholesome joke. He was always approachable and could be counted on to offer help and fatherly advice to his children.
When grandchildren arrived Olen tried to spoil them anyway he could. At his house he would carry them around for hours and show them every picture and gadget in every room. Any Sunday visit to his house meant the grandchildren would be led to Evans Market, next door, to be offered candy and the best toy in stock. He delighted in these visits. And they did too!