Sensational Seniors – November 2016
Jerry Evans and his wife, Linda, have owned the Jacksonville Inn for over 40 years. In that time, Jerry has stayed home a total of 173 days or, to put it another way, he has averaged less than 5 days a year at home during the past 40 years. This must be some sort of record!
Born in 1936, Jerry just celebrated his 80th birthday on October 9. He is a local boy, growing up in Shady Cove and graduating from Eagle Point High School in 1954. His young days were not particularly easy as he suffered from an abusive stepfather and, during the summer of his senior year, had a pitchfork accident while working on the Ginger Rogers farm that left him blind in one eye. The accident caused him to miss his regular senior year, as he had multiple surgeries to repair the damage. Amazingly, 40 years after this accident, a successful eye surgery restored the sight in his eye. Although the accident cut short his budding athletic career, it helped him decide that a logging career was not for him. Jerry was one of the few in his class to go on to college; in his case Oregon State University. He entered OSU with the intent of becoming a veterinarian, but, realizing this would require transferring to another school, he opted to pursue a degree in Food Science.
During three of his college summer years, he worked at Harry and David as a roustabout, mainly lugging boxes of peaches. This led to him being hired right out of college by Harry and David and to a 20-year career with them. He started helping manage the Preserve Plant, then became the Food Processing Manager and later became the company Production Manager. From there he moved to a subsidiary company of Harry and David, Jackson and Perkins, where the company management assured him he would have the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder. Indeed, this opportunity presented itself when he was asked to move to Bakersfield, California to take over a large Jackson and Perkins rose farm. While the offer was intriguing, the idea of moving his family from Medford to Bakersfield was not appealing and, as he said, “The skiing was not very good in Bakersfield.” So, Jerry started looking at other options, and this is when he learned that the Jacksonville Inn and Restaurant was for sale. He was able to scrape together enough money to buy the business in 1976.
Jerry fondly recalls the early years at the Inn. “I could not have opened the doors if the Swift Meat Company had not let me buy my meat on credit. Our standard rooms rented for $10 a night and the deluxe rooms rented for $12. I started with 16 employees and now have over 100. Running the Jacksonville Inn in 1976 was more fun and easier than it is now.” Incidentally, the base room rate in 2016 at the Inn is $159 and the Inn’s Presidential Cottage rents for $465 a night.
In 1982, Jerry was able to purchase the real estate where the Inn is located and then expanded the restaurant to two levels. What is now the upstairs dining area once housed two gift shops and a lawyer’s office. Later, the popular Bistro and intimate lower bar were added…and later yet, the equally-popular seasonal patio dining area.
To clear his mind and to enjoy some of the ambiance of Jacksonville, Jerry likes to take a walk-about most days. Several years ago, during such an outing, he noticed a “For Sale” sign on a small house on West Main Street. He eventually purchased it for $39,800. This was the beginning of the Jacksonville Inn cottages, which eventually became four cottages, starring the popular “Presidential Cottage.”
Jerry and Linda have been married for 56 years. Linda is a retired Medford School District teacher and administrator but Jerry remembers, “In the early days, Linda would finish her long day of teaching and then hustle over to the Inn where she would serve as the Hostess for the evening diners.” Jerry and Linda have two adult sons, and it is his sons that got Jerry interested in skiing. “When I was young, I never had enough money to even consider skiing but, when my boys took up the sport in a competitive way, I got pulled right along. I’ve had some wonderful skiing experiences in the states but also in Europe.”
A New Year’s Day conversation with his Rotary friend, Peter Sage, led to another athletic experience when Peter said, “Why don’t you join me in running the Paris Marathon in April?” Jerry was intrigued by the idea of running a marathon in Paris but especially in April and accomplishing it remains an emotional highlight of his life. The marathon led to eight others in seven different countries and three continents and a first place “age-class” trophy from Tel Aviv. Jerry acknowledges that, “Getting in marathon shape is not easy for me given my work schedule, but I’m certainly thankful for the great experiences I have had running them.”
Most people Jerry’s age would be enjoying well-earned rest and relaxation but this is not for Jerry. “I know I should be spending more time with Linda, but I really enjoy people, and it is a great feeling going home late at night after a particularly busy evening knowing that people were happy they had come to the Jacksonville Inn.” Having employed and trained hundreds of people over his 40 years in business, Jerry is known as a fair but demanding employer. He says that, “I am a pretty good judge of people, so I’ve been able to hire good people. I bet in my 40 years at the Inn I have had to fire no more than a half-dozen people. Now, I’ll admit, some did not like the training I put them through and left on their own accord, but I’ve got some wonderful employees who have been with me for a long time. For example Sue Nichols has been with me 38 years and Platon Mantheakis 30 years and quite a few others over 20 years.” When asked what advice he would give someone who is starting work in a restaurant, he simply said, “Show up…and that means, if a shift starts at 6:00pm, you do not come in at 6:05 pm.”
Jerry laments that running a business and especially a restaurant and lodging business is much more difficult now than it was in 1976. And it is not just the plethora of local, state and federal regulations he has to tend to, but the fact that, “Social media has taken over advertising and this is a difficult transition at my age.”
When asked what advice he would give someone contemplating retirement, he adamantly says, “If you are in good health and you don’t have a concrete plan for your life after retirement, don’t retire.” Jerry recently had back surgery and, while most people would enjoy several weeks of rest before easing back to work, he drove his car to the Inn eighteen hours after the surgery, against doctor’s orders. He said, “I had my surgery on a Friday, and I had to be back at work on Saturday because we had a very busy night.”
Jerry Evans is his own man and proud of it. For those of us who know him, he is a Jacksonville gem.