On the Frontier

By Cook, Timothy | Independent Banker, January 1998 | Go to article overview

On the Frontier


Cook, Timothy, Independent Banker


Family bank continues pioneering tradition in southern Idaho

She was a young immigrant widow from Wales with three young children. In 1852, Winifred "Gwen" Evans walked 1,000 miles across the prairie with her three young children to the eerily desolate shores of the Great Salt Lake. Seeking religious sanctuary and peace with other early Morman followers, she followed the footsteps of Brigham Young.

Utah was a territory then. Cattle drives and gold prospecting made life a cycle of boom and bust. War with Mexico thundered to the south. Clashes with Indians still erupted, sometimes violently. The boast of Manifest Destiny was reaching its pinnacle, and pioneering was the hazardous but promising gamble for prosperity of our restless, westward looking nation.

After living two decades in northern Utah and the death of her second husband, Gwen Evans started over. She migrated north to the arid but fertile region of southern Idaho. She claimed a 160-acre sagebrushcovered homestead, taught school part-time and raised her family alone on the stark, hard scrabble frontier. She lived a full, independent life, dying in 1909 at the age of 87.

Later generations of Evanses inherited her durable pioneer spirit. The values of honest character, strong family roots and self-made opportunity through sacrifice and hard work became part of the family-owned community bank started in 1904 by Evans' son, David Lloyd.

That bank, D.L. Evans Bank, is headquartered in Burley, Idaho, a town of 10,000 residents in the heart of dusty potato and sugar beet country. Permanence is part of the bank's longstanding reputation, as organic and reliable as the fertile soils local farmers depend on. The bank has survived agricultural disasters, the Great Depression and, more recently, the banking industry's consolidation. Today, it's a prosperous, rapidly growing $153 million-asset, six-branch community bank, one of the largest in Magic Valley's five-county region.

"Stability is a big part of our bank being a family institution," says John V. Evans Sr., bank president and grandson of the bank's founder. "We're a hometown community bank, and we're here whenever the community needs us."

Today, three generations of family members maintain that continuity. Evans' son, John Jr., is D.L. Evans Bank's CEO, creating a strong father-son team. His brother, Donald, serves as chairman. His grandson, J.V., began working for the bank after graduating from college last spring.

D.L. Evans Bank still serves a few old-timers who opened their first accounts in the years just after the bank opened nearly a century ago, Evans points out. Like a familiar running dialogue between lifelong friends, these customers routinely ask the same question, even though they already know the answer.

"They always ask us, `You're not going to sell out, are you?" Evans remarks. "And we tell them we're going to be here. The bank has had roots here for so long. There's a comfort level [for customers] knowing the bank is going to continue to be here."

The bank recently finished a marketing campaign that proudly declared: "We're not for sale." But community service is woven into the Evanses' pioneer quilt as much as community banking. Founder David Lloyd Evans was a frontier politician and served many years in state politics, even before Idaho became a state. He became the state's speaker of the house at the turn of the century.

Following in his grandfather's footsteps, John Evans Sr. spent 33 years in public office, serving as mayor, state senator, lieutenant governor and then governor. He served as Idaho's governor from 1977 to 1987, an opportunity that took him to the White House, across the country and around the globe. During his years in public office, he worked to balance state budgets (even in lean economic times), expand education opportunities and support conservation measures. Settling contentious water rights disputes proved among the most trying but important accomplishments. …

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