Lance Evans’ time at the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce has made a lasting impact on the business community.
He will also be remembered for his willingness to wear a costume.
At trick-or-treating on Halloween, Evans could be seen dressed in a giraffe or penguin onesie while handing out candy. At the holiday tree lighting, he most often appeared as an elf, clad in red and green from head to toe.
“Those are some of my favorite memories: encouraging the community to take part in chamber-sponsored events,” he said.
Evans, who has been executive director of the organization for 16 years, is retiring at the end of this month. What he will miss most is the “connection to people and business members.”
“It’s those interactions combined with the board and staff, who I see on a regular basis,” he said.
Evans grew up in Southern California and earned a degree in communications from UCLA. He began working for CBS in 1977 as a fact researcher for films. He was later employed by TNT as a television and movie developer. While at CBS, Janet Brownell, who was in the personnel department, applied for an open position in Evans’ division. After he interviewed her, Brownell told a co-worker, “I may not get the job but I think I met the guy I’m going to marry.”
She was, indeed, hired for the position and three days later went on her first date with Evans. They were married in 1986.
The couple was living in Cambria, California in 1994 when Brownell saw an ad for Eagle Lake in a film industry trade magazine.
“We were just looking for a fun spot to visit,” Evans said. “But by the tail end of our trip, we had put an offer on a property. Janet’s career was established enough that we could make the move and I was between careers.”
Once they were settled on Orcas, the two jumped into volunteer opportunities, and Evans began working as an independent researcher for the entertainment industry.
“This was before the remote business model,” he laughed. “So I was faxing and FedExing documents to LA.”
At the time of their move to Orcas, Evans had been employed at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. In 2006, Brownell saw an ad in the Sounder for an executive director position at the Orcas Chamber and Evans thought it would be a perfect fit.
The goal of a chamber of commerce is to support small businesses through outreach, advertising, education and more. During his tenure, Evans has overseen monthly business mixers, the weekly Blast newsletter, the annual chamber fête, July 4th parade, tree lighting and Santa visit, Halloween festivities and Shakespeare and Bird Watching Festival and set the chamber up as an umbrella organization for events like Hops on the Rock. He has also served on the county’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, the economic development council and the San Juan Islands’ Visitors’ Bureau.
“Looking back, the pandemic slowed down what I could do,” he said. “Outreach moments became virtual. We had to reimagine how to connect with members.”
Evans is delighted to see how the chamber develops during a new chapter with his replacement Carey Eskridge, who moved to Orcas from Austin, Texas in early 2022 after spending five years looking for the perfect home to buy on the island.
Eskridge was introduced to the San Juan Islands after a climbing trip to Mt. Baker in the mid-90s and dreamed of relocating ever since. He returned with his wife Christina Vallery for a “baby moon” and “knew the minute we drove off the ferry Orcas would someday be our home.”
Their daughter Lola is now 11 and attends Orcas Island Middle School. Eskridge recently stepped away from 26 years of public service with a legislative support agency providing non-partisan policy research to leadership and members of the Texas legislature.
“We knew our move would coincide with career 2.0 and hoped it would be something so I could engage with the entire island community,” Eskridge said. “I never would have dreamed I could be involved in such a meaningful way. I can’t wait to get started and meet with people to talk about what’s next and how the chamber can pivot coming out of the pandemic and challenges of these past few years to best serve its members.”
Until early January, Eskridge will job shadow Evans, who promises he will “be available for any questions throughout the year.” Office assistant Leah Johnson will continue to work closely with the executive director.
Evans doesn’t know what’s next for him but it will most certainly involve spending time with his beagle Chet and his beloved wife.
Evans and Brownell have traveled the world together, most recently returning from a bike trip through Amsterdam and the Netherlands. They’ve been to Africa several times, took a canal boat trip through France and visited Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in 2019. This January, the couple will spend time in Thailand, a trip that has been postponed for three years.