Jackie Kelly Evans remembers the days of her youth when she’d walk with her friends near Lake Sacajawea and see the house at the corner of Kessler Boulevard and Larch Street that she now calls home.
“As youngsters, we would walk along Kessler Boulevard and say, ‘I like that home, and I like that home.’ This one was probably my favorite,” Evans said Tuesday afternoon.
Evans, 73, the granddaughter of JH Kelly founder Jack H. Kelly Sr., bought the Craftsman/Mediterranean style stucco home in 2012. For decades it had been in the Berwind family, who, like the Kellys, was one of Longview’s old and original families.
The home — built in 1923 by architect Archibald N. Torbitt — had its fair share of maintenance problems, including dry rot. And it needed extensive renovations to its floor plan to make it suitable for modern living. After three years of intense renovation, Evans moved in early last year.
It was an investment that, at times, Evans said felt like “a money pit,” but she saw potential in the home’s history. She feels that way about Longview as well.
“I do think there’s more potential,” said Evans, who is this year’s president of the ’23 club. “In order to be a better community, we have to respect our past and work hard in our present time to make way for a more bountiful future.”
Evans was born and raised in Longview, spending her teens in the 1950s living with her parents and younger sister at her 19th Avenue home, where her niece and nephew live now.
Back then, Longview was a nearly idyllic small town where everyone knew each other, she remembers. Evans spent many times hanging out with her neighborhood friends downtown or going on trips to Spirit Lake.
“The neighborhoods were a special part of our lives,” she said.
When she graduated from Mark Morris High School in 1960 and ventured to the University of Washington in Seattle to study nursing, she never thought she’d come back. She worked in Seattle and California before her family moved back to town in 1971.
Her then-husband, Dan Evans, was taking over the family contracting business, and she was pregnant with the first of her three sons, Mason Evans, who now runs JH Kelly.
“Even at that point in time, I’m not too sure what I thought about coming back. I don’t think anybody goes away and thinks they’re going to be back in their home town,” she said. “I thought it’d be a great place to raise kids.”
Evans said Longview maintained its charm, and raising her kids in town was similar to how she grew up. Longview started shifting when big-box stores started moving in and the local industries became stagnant, closed or downsized.
Many families were lured to bigger cities.
“Some of the mom-and-pop stores that worked hard have died out. You just can’t compete with big-box stores or going to Portland,” Evans said. “It was a huge trip to go to Portland (before). If I went shopping with my mother, maybe once or twice a year, we rode the Greyhound bus, and we got dressed up in hats and gloves.”
But, Evans said, Portland and other big cities have nothing on Longview’s community spirit — from grassroots efforts for solving the town’s problems to simply saying hello to strangers on the street. Evans said she sees that spirit in Longview residents who devote themselves to bettering the town, whether it’s keeping the streets clean or keeping historic homes intact.
“Longview’s a very pretty town, and people who come here often mention that it takes their breath away,” she said. “We know our problems of some situations, like with health and well-being. We can see that, and we can do something about it.”