What were you doing in 1969? That’s when Becky Evans joined the Sierra Club and began volunteering. If arithmetic isn’t your thing, let us help you out; that’s 50 years and counting.
Evans’s volunteerism also extends to multiple positions associated with City of San Francisco official entities. “Find a need and fill it,” she advises—and has she ever!
Evans’s early life involved frequent moves around the U.S. She was born in Cincinnati, but after her father died when she was five her mother moved the family—Evans has two younger brothers—to her native West Virginia. When her mother married an Air Force officer, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio. “My introduction to nature was in rural West Virginia and Ohio,” she says, where she lived in such environments for exploration as a holler near a stream, and in close proximity to a forest and creek.
The family also lived in San Bernardino, California, where Evans went to junior and senior high school. She attended the University of Arizona at Tucson, where she studied Latin American history and political science but left before graduating. “I didn’t have specific career goals,” she says. “I imagined I would finish my degree by mail or at another school, but ultimately I didn’t.”
Evans moved to San Francisco in 1962, but she soon left to work for two seasons at Sequoia National Park; first as a switchboard operator and then in various tourist services roles. “The park was where I got grounded in my appreciation of nature; I couldn’t ignore the surroundings,” she says.
On returning to San Francisco she worked for Pacific Bell and MJB Coffee, but a job listing for administrator of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter caught her eye. Following a late-night interview, she was hired on Valentine’s Day 1972, becoming one of the chapter’s first full-time employees. In 1975 she began managing the Sierra Club bookstore and information center in SF, which she did until 1987. Her next job was as a paralegal for Oakland law firm Berry & Berry, one of whose principals was on the Sierra Club Board of Directors. She worked there for 18 years, until her retirement in 2004.
Evans’s 1969 decision to join the Sierra Club was inspired by the efforts of three local women—Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick—who in 1961 founded the Save San Francisco Bay Association (now called Save the Bay) to protect the bay and estuary from harmful development. The Sierra Club was supporting their efforts, and “that was the trigger to get me involved,” Evans says.
Activism didn’t preclude adventure, though. Evans recalls backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. “It was July 21, 1969,” she says, “and I recall marveling that there were men on the moon that night.”
Evans found that her affiliation with the Sierra Club gave her credibility in other spheres, something she’s observed with other Club activists. “When you become active and get visibility, doors open—and you can choose to walk through them,” she says. One example of this was her role in the group that successfully pushed for legislation to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Her activism was instrumental in protecting the GGNRA and the Presidio, a national park within the GGNRA, and is the civic campaign on which Evans has spent the most time and effort.
This Sierra Club super-volunteer has held multiple leadership roles with the Bay Chapter and its San Francisco Group. She has twice been the chapter chair, most recently from 2014–2016, and has served on its Executive Committee since 2011 and its Political Committee since the 1980s. In 2015 she encouraged the founding of its Federal Parks Committee, and she currently chairs the chapter’s San Francisco Group. She became the chapter’s delegate to the Council of Sierra Club Leaders in 2015, which meets annually and functions as a national advisory group to the Club’s board of directors.
Evans enjoyed being on the cover of Sierra magazine in October 1982, when the Club endorsed a politician for whom she volunteered and staged a group “action” photograph in his election headquarters.
As for other civic work, she has been extensively involved in SF water issues, serving for 20 years on the Citizens’ Advisory Wastewater Committee. She’s been active over the years on waterfront planning groups, and was the official proponent of Waterfront Height Measure B in 2014. She also served on the city’s Commission on the Environment from 1996 to 2003, including a stint as vice chair.
Evans’s work for the Sierra Club and the city of San Francisco is broad and deep. She has received several official accolades, including a San Francisco Board of Supervisors “Certificate of Honor” and lifetime achievement awards from SF Tomorrow and the Bay Chapter.
Evans can also be found a couple days a week at the Club’s national headquarters in Oakland, where she volunteers for the William E. Colby Memorial Library. “My institutional knowledge is a bonus for this work and for the research I’m assigned,” she explains. “We get some fairly obscure questions, and after I’ve checked the obvious I look to Club activists, former staff members, and the occasional ‘odd’ source for information.”
Librarian Therese Dunn oversees Evans’s work there. “I depend on Becky’s knowledge of Sierra Club history; she remembers people and issues that long predate my arrival at the library,” says Dunn. “Currently she’s assisting me with reorganization and rehousing of materials in the Club’s document and ephemera collection, bringing context and meaning to otherwise confounding paperwork collected by library personnel through the decades. I am in awe of her commitment and dedication to the Sierra Club.”
Becky Evans has thoroughly enjoyed her years at the Sierra Club. “I was fortunate to join at a time of change—member growth and increased participation of women activists,” she says. “It’s been interesting to watch it evolve and reinvent itself over the years.” That’s an astute observation, and one which can also be said to apply to Evans herself.