Friday, 05 March 2010 00:00
Former residents returning home frequently visit the Hicksville Gregory Museum and inquire about their former teacher, Richard “Dick” Evers. I was fond of telling them that Mr. Evers is the kind of person who, when I’m his age, I hope to be as young as he is. Mr. Evers’ passing on Feb. 25, 2010 at the age of 87 has not diminished that estimation one iota. Indeed, Mr. Evers’ optimism made him a better man – and a better historian as well.
History, Mr. Evers once told me, is not only past events, former arrangements in the societal fabric and long-gone personages. It’s always about the present human condition. Inherent in this perspective is his transition from “history teacher” to “social studies teacher” in the 1960s when he taught at Hicksville High School and counted Billy Joel among his pupils.
The bewildering nature of the modern world – the moral relativism, usurpation of traditional cultural and intellectual values, and socioeconomic dislocations – were always the center of his concern as a writer and historian. But his traditionalism never let itself be seduced by the inebriating pessimism modernity’s critics are wont to suffer. He never wallowed in nostalgia. Nostalgia was, rather, a bittersweet pond on whose placid surface he watched the modern world leave its wake – always, though, to return to its tranquil state because Mr. Evers ultimately believed in the eternal verities, like Margaret Schlegel in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End. It was a necessary consequence of his devout Christianity: Faith in God implied faith in people and faith in people meant families in their community rather than such larger abstractions as states, empires, and transitory ideologies.
And that translated into a focus on local history.
It was a faith Mr. Evers shared with his friend and fellow Hicksville Gregory Museum Board member Anthony “Tony” Previte, who died Feb. 21, 2010. Mr. Previte was a retired engineer, member of the American Academy of Science and a Hicksvilleite active in a number of the town’s fraternal and civil organizations. His interests at the Gregory were more science-oriented, whereas Mr. Evers was the museum’s prime historian, dividing his time between the Gregory and the Hicksville Public Library’s Richard Evers History Room.
Mr. Evers believed that local history was more than simply the passion of eccentric antiquarians or stereotypical old-timers who “remember when all of this was just farms.” To this end, he was among those in the late 1960s who worked with Gardiner and Anne Gregory to transform Hicksville’s old 1895 courthouse into the Hicksville Gregory Museum and he always served on the museum’s board in one capacity or another. In 1991 Mr. Evers co-founded the Hicksville Historical Society.
Although Mr. Evers was active in the community’s many civil organizations – ubiquitous camera in hand to record events great and small for the Hicksville Illustrated News and Mid-Island Times – the legacy of his contributions will doubtless be enshrined in his role as a writer and in this capacity he could record the prosaic, always underscored by an understanding that moral and cultural attributes were the ultimate causes of prosperity and poverty. Institutions might be the anatomical features that characterized a community’s evolution, but faith and values were the underpinning genetic code.
Mr. Evers’ four-volume The Economic History of Hicksville focused on the history of banking and commerce that might fascinate even those with no particular interest in finance or industry. A reminder, too, of the sea change America experienced: the local bankers and merchants of bygone Hicksville were neighbors and pillars of the community in a manner reminiscent of George Bailly in It’s a Wonderful Life.
The other cutting-edge of Damocles’ sword was Mr. Evers’ Hicksville Traumas and A Dilemma: The Elevation of the Railroad, Destruction of West Broadway and the G-I Zoning Ordinance Ordeal, 1961-68. In a time when it wasn’t popular to stress the necessity intrinsic in necessary evils, the things done in the name of “progress,” Mr. Evers’ Hicksville Traumas did not allow us to forget the evil aspect. Mr. Evers appreciated Hegel’s estimation of human tragedy: the struggle not between right and wrong but between right and right.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Evers’ work returned to tried-and-true themes capturing bygone small-town America for the benefit of a new century and new people; for the next great demographic tide that can either erode the community’s heritage or nourish it the way the overflowing Nile nourished Egypt.
In 2000, he and his late wife Anne co-authored the Hicksville edition of Arcadia Press’ Images of America series and dedicated the book to their son Kevin who had passed away. Festooned with several hundred photographs and captioning and text in the superlative style that evidenced Mr. Evers’ love of humanity and the people of his community, its range was considerable, emphasizing the diversity of faiths and peoples, the history of civil organizations epitomizing Tocquevillian America, and the extraordinary role of women in the community. The book exudes patriotism and pride. It glows in Norman Rockwellesque virtue. It’s Mayberry married to Leave it to Beaver.
Perhaps, unconsciously, Mr. Evers defined himself in the preface to his economic series and his legacy to the community, stating that “In a world of ever-diminishing verities, traditions, customs, and moral standards, one wants so much – consciously or unconsciously – to know that there is someone or some group out there, still bucking the relentless tides of relativism, pragmatism and hedonism.”
Mr. Evers, no less than Anthony Previte, was such a someone, a reminder that if we remember and preserve the achievements of those who came before us, we are more likely to do something with our lives worth remembering and preserving by those who will come after us.
(Editor’s Note; Paul Manton is a staff entomologist and member of the Hicksville Gregory Museum’s board of Advisors.)