Susan Evans recalls 30-year-old memories after announcing her departure from FGCU
With Florida Gulf Coast University’s walls growing higher by the day, it is sometimes hard to see how the school was originally a plot of wilderness, cows, and wild hogs. Susan Evans, FGCU’s vice president and chief of staff, remembers hopping on a four-wheel-drive with her team and cutting the tall grass with machetes to get a sense of Roy McTarnaghan’s newest vision: Estero’s newest college campus.
“There were no buildings, no utilities, no students, no faculty, or staff, of course. Dr. McTarnaghan and I would drive to Alico road, which was the last place you could stop before the wilderness,” Evans said, recalling her almost 30 year-long memory.
Evans’ distant recollection of FGCU’s original site would develop to become the beloved 807 acres that over 15,000 students now call home.
“It’s just been so rewarding to be a part of the team that started it, and to have worked with so many people over these past 27-and-a-half years to bring the university to what it is today.”
From shuffling through the early pastures of FGCU’s site, to watching the university receive national commendations, Evans saw the full scope of the university’s lifetime — and was there before the school even had a name.
Evans was there before the adrenaline-raging “Dunk City” reached national attention from the mouths of media giants from Inside Edition TV to the Wall Street Journal. She was there before the opening of glittering, state-of-the-art facilities like the Recreation center and the groundbreaking of FGCU’s Water School building.
Evans saw the university’s name grow from being on rudimentary business cards and letterheads to the massive entrance construction with its name engraved in blue and white.
However, Evans acknowledged that all chapters must come to a close.
Wednesday, March 3 marked the end of Evan’s 27-year career at FGCU after serving the university since 1993. Evans was one of the university’s founding team of five employees.
“I just feel like that people know when the time to make a decision like this comes and I’m very sentimental about leaving so many people here on the campus,” Evans said, “but I’m excited about the possibilities that lie ahead and I’m eager to find out what they’re going to be.”
Evans said she had been thinking of leaving the university for a little while, and that it was time for her next chapter — even though she doesn’t know what it looks like yet. She said the thought of leaving the university for her new stage in life has been nostalgia mixed with excitement.
“It’s just been so rewarding,” Evans said, who was the first government relations director and the first senior woman administrator for FGCU athletics. She became the public face of the university in 1993, when Roy McTarnaghan asked her to join the founding team. She swiftly left her position as the executive director of the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce. Since then, Evans worked to serve throughout numerous days, nights, and weekends for FGCU.
“Now, if I get the mental or emotional here, you’re going to hear it,” Evans said, recalling the memories she had accumulated over the years.
“The last couple of weeks since I announced that I was leaving, I’ve been in my office night and day, packing, going through things, mostly going down memory lane,” Evans said.
“Going through all of that, it’s been really wonderful. It’s also very sentimental, what I will miss on this coming to the campus, I was, I’m always so proud when I pull in to drive into the front entrance. ”
President Michael Martin commended Evans for her years of work, and said the community will miss her.
“Susan’s impact on and service to FGCU over 27 years cannot be overstated. She has contributed to the development of the university as an administrator, a communicator, an advocate and a valued colleague,” said President Martin. “While we will most certainly miss Susan, everyone at FGCU wishes her the very best. She will forever be a member of the Eagle Family.”
Evans said that she never thought she’d work for a college that didn’t even exist while she attended high school and college. “I could not have dreamed that,” she said.
She had a vivid childhood in Charlotte High School, and she later earned her bachelor’s degree at Stetson University. Evans said her high school years translated to her growing love for the university’s athletic department.
“I have five brothers, and my dad had basketballs in our hands before we could walk. So that was a huge part of our life, or to have huge in my family,” Evans said. “I did well in my classes, but my passion certainly was basketball, everything and I really enjoyed that sport. Really, I think it teaches people a lot. For me, it taught me being prepared. I was always the last one to leave the gym every night. I would stay after practices and I would practice after games, even. I was just really working hard at it. So, and that’s why I feel so strongly about athletics.”
Her passion as a teenager converted itself to the university’s young — but momentum bursting — basketball team. Evans remembered when the men’s basketball team broke records as the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Basketball Tournament after defeating San Diego State. Evans said that, to her, was one of the most remarkable times at FGCU that she experienced.
She said that FGCU’s name became very well-known during that period over the country and all over the world. She said the website was blowing up with hits unlike anything she had ever seen before. It was an exciting, adrenaline-filled, non-stop couple of weeks for Evans, where she did interviews left and right for mass media about the Dunk City experience.
“Everybody wanted to know more about ‘what is that school called Florida Gulf Coast University? Who are these high-flying eagles and their dunks?’ and how impressive we were. For me, it was great because it was great basketball, this team, those guys were incredible. But to me was more than just basketball success,” Evans said.
“To me, it was a great dunk, but it was also a message to the world. It’s you know, here we are. We’re FGCU, we succeeded,” Evans said, “We were scrappy, we worked hard. We were underestimated. And those were all the things that our men’s basketball team was going into those NCAA tournaments. I was extremely proud for the basketball team, but more so for the entire university in the community, for what had been built here to the efforts of so many people.”
Evans recalls feeling overwhelmed with joy while listening to Charles Barkley, a professional basketball player and commentator for the NBA talking about FGCU.
“I remember one night right before one of our games during that just unbelievable, unprecedented run through the tournament. And Charles Barkley starts talking about FGCU. And I just broke down in tears of pride.”
She said this moment was especially meaningful because the tremendous effort of the FGCU community was finally being realized.
“It was it was very, very meaningful, because so many people had poured their hearts and their souls into making this place… and to have that validation, and to see it play out through a basketball team’s success. I mean, this doesn’t get any better than that,” she said.
“It didn’t ever get any better than that. That was phenomenal.”
Evans said that this memory was a special one, among the countless prized memories in her collection. With just as many memories come faces. With the numerous people she has met throughout her 27-year career at FGCU, Evans sees a story in every one of them.
“I’ve worked with so many people across this campus all of these years. You think about it. I’ve been here when every single person who works here was hired. I’ve been here when they’ve all been hired, the ones who are here now, and the ones who’ve been here and left. You know, people coming and going.”
In light of the pandemic though, everything changed. Evans was in charge of sending the weekly Coronavirus updates and help spread the world about protecting the nest.
“There’s no doubt this is the most significant thing to occur at FGCU, or any other university campus across the country,” Evans said. The most important aspect for her was keeping an emphasis on students, and students at FGCU definitely felt her impact.
“I am going to miss getting updated from her about what’s going on campus,” said FGCU student Lauren Shanley. She said that whether that be with COVID-19 or with important events, Evans created a great sense of transparency for students to feel at home throughout the harsh year of the pandemic.
“I feel like she was very helpful to keep everybody in the loop of what was going on at FGCU, and I know a lot of schools don’t do a good job of transparency, but she tried to achieve credibility and transparency with the school,” Shanley said.
Evans said that the FGCU family has pulled together in what she thinks are the most remarkable ways. Though these challenging circumstances have hit hard, she hopes the FGCU family will continue breaking through the challenges.
“It’s really difficult to operate in an environment where you don’t know what comes next and you don’t know where the end is. For many things that can be a challenge. The unknowns of COVID-19 have been challenging,” she said, “but I have just seen faculty, staff and students working so hard together to do our very best in light of the most challenging circumstances we ever could have faced.”
And the same faculty, staff, and student body is something Evans holds dearly. She said that what she’ll miss most among the campus’ warm environment is the people that walk among it.
“I have gotten some of the most amazing, heartfelt emails since the word was around that I was going to be leaving. And many of those have come from students and I will cherish all of those forever. They mean more to me than I could put into words,” she said.
She said she will miss her staff, the board of Trustees and the students that have made FGCU feel like home.
Evans will be serving as a consultant to FGCU through a two-month transition period. Beverly Brown, the executive assistant to the president, said in an email to students that the school will disaggregate Evan’s responsibilities across the university to accommodate for the transition. Many, like Brown, are calling the transition process the witty but sentimental “Post-Susan Era.”
If Evans could describe the university, she’d summarize it without hesitation.
“It’s a beautiful place.”
“It provides that meaningful education and support to our students. I just cannot… I don’t have anything to compare it with. It’s been a good part of my adult life, you know, in this job.”
Though Evans might be closing her chapter working at FGCU, she said she’s nowhere near finished cheering-on FGCU.
“For the rest of my life, I am going to continue to cheer FGCU on athletics and everything else,” she said. “I’m always, always going to be cheering on FGCU in every way in every possible way I can. So, you know, in that regard, I’ve got an exciting, possible who-knows-what-it’s-going-to-be future ahead. And yet, I also get this special part of my life right here.”
“It will always be the most rewarding, and it’s just been such an honor. It’s been a privilege of a professional and personal nature, to get to be here from the start,” she said, wrapping up her years of memories.
“I think it’s going to be sentimental at first. But having said that, it’s mostly a great sense of pride, and also a great sense of appreciation and gratitude that I was asked to be a part of it. I really do appreciate that opportunity.”