The University of Connecticut People Empowering People (UConn PEP) received a generous gift from the estate of the Reverend John Evans, a lifelong Episcopal priest. The donor was Cherry Czuba, retired Extension Educator from Haddam, and niece of John Evans. He was a charismatic and fascinating uncle who endeared himself to many people. Throughout his long ministry he was called the “Singing Preacher” and “Musical Chaplain” because of his musical gifts, and “God’s Funny Man” by one of his former professors because of his wonderful playfulness.
One of the most defining moments of John’s life was volunteering on Ellis Island. He lived at the Seamen’s Church Institute from 1948 through 1954. On Tuesdays and Thursdays in 1954 John took the ferry to Ellis Island and played and taught harp, banjo, guitar, piano, and music to the bedridden detainees through a self-taught numbering system. He was the last chaplain on Ellis Island. At a New York event, Ed Sullivan cited John Evans for raising the morale of seamen. Shortly after, the New York Sunday News carried a picture story of his use of the banjo in quelling a waterfront disturbance. Later in his life John donated two of his harps to the museum at Ellis Island.
The gift to the UConn PEP program exemplifies the values John Evans showed in all of his life work and service. UConn PEP was created to serve families by giving them
skills to lead and make a difference in their communities. It is an innovative personal and family development program with a strong community focus. The UConn PEP program is for adults and older teens, and is designed to build on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants and emphasizes the connection between individual and community action.
Because the UConn PEP program is adaptable to a variety of settings, the program is offered throughout the state at family resource centers, community agencies, discovery centers, faith-based communities and correctional institutions. Over one thousand people have graduated from the program in its 22-year history. Dr. Cathleen Love has coordinated the PEP program since Cherry’s retirement. “PEP thrived because Extension shifted off of the county-based programs to statewide programming, and that was through the vision of our administrators at the time, Dr. Nancy Bull and Dr. Roger Adams,” Cherry says reflectively.
“My uncle and I enjoy giving back. I wouldn’t have had all of these opportunities without Extension,” Cherry says. “I think many of my fellow retirees can reflect on the wonderful opportunities they have had as well. Uncle John felt a sense of gratitude for what can be done when everyone contributes. I’m grateful for what I have and despair for what others don’t have. We tend to stereotype and not talk about inequality. My uncle fought stereotyping throughout his life and modeled it for me.”
The strength of UConn Extension programs is in our network and our knowledge. We educate and convene groups to help solve problems in the areas of food, health and sustainability. Even in retirement John Evans helped serve others, a family tradition that Cherry continues today. Through his actions, John modeled that when people volunteer, they give back and develop friendships. Cherry really enjoys what she does as a volunteer and gives back however she can to many different organizations. The tradition of volunteering in Cherry’s family taught her to broaden her horizons, build relationships, have fun, continue to grow, and try new things. Communities depend on active volunteer bases to grow, improve, and serve their citizens.
The UConn PEP program serves many first-generation immigrants. “Uncle John so believed in that feeling of being with immigrants, and understanding that we are all immigrants. John would love the fact that UConn PEP is reaching out to such a diverse audience.” John Evans passed away two years ago at age 98, the last of his generation in the Evans family. The gift to the UConn PEP program in his memory is helping the program reach new audiences, and John Evans continues serving communities through UConn PEP.