The Mountain Times

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Friends remember Bob Evans

Robert Pressley "Bob" (aka Tuna) Evans, 70, a former resident of Killington and long-time manager of the Wobbly Barn died recently in Idaho while fishing in a place he loved.

Evans died the morning of June 16. Authorities in Idaho believe a medical condition was a factor causing him to drown in the Henry's Fork river. A Vermont fishing buddy confirmed that he had developed a medical condition in his later years. Saddened and shocked by his passing, friends took solace that he was doing "what he enjoyed and did every day."

Locally, Evans was well known for his twenty-plus years of working at the Wobbly Barn, the famous Killington nightclub, where he mentored many an employee and exhibited a passion for running a good business.

Sally Bridges knew Evans dating back to the 1960s. She recalled first having met Evans when she and her (late) husband Ted Bridges were working at the Wobbly Barn - Ted was a bartender and manager there and Sally waited tables. "Teddy and Bob became great friends. They broke the mold (of friendship)," she added, noting, "Teddy officiated at Bob's son Jason's wedding."
She recalled that, "Bob married (his former wife) Nancy around 1970, and they had three children. Bob bought a place on Center Street (Rutland) in the 1970s and owned and operated it as the Dining Room for several years.  Then he went to the Wobbly Barn where he became the manager around 1977 and revitalized the business," Bridges said.

"He really got a ton of people to buy into whatever he was selling - he was a great salesman. Bob was really a character. He was one of the best and worked hard. He loved what he was doing.

"His son followed in his father's footsteps," Bridges added, saying Jason "first worked for him at the Wobbly then managed it for Killington after Bob retired. Jason later bought the Clear River Tavern in Pittsfield and manages it with his wife Kim. Bob was very proud of him - he was proud of all his kids," Bridges added.

"When he retired in the late 1990s, Bob went out West to fish. He loved fishing and lived a very simple life, but he had friends and many people from this area visited him, including Leo Denis and Ted among others.

"He was a free spirit and enjoyed life - he died doing what he loved," Bridges said, noting that when she learned of his death she was left "in a total state of shock."

Jody Chudzik bartended at the Wobbly Barn for 22 years, starting there in 1979 when Evans hired her. "He was always fair and we got the job done - the Wobbly ran like a clock because he was there. He made it famous and that's when the Wobbly starting winning many awards," she stated.

Asked about a favorite memory, Chudzik said, "We had wonderful end-of-the-season closing parties with a theme. At the Sting party - based on the movie with Newman and Redford that takes place in the 1930s - Tuna [Evans] came in all slick and hot-looking. It was a shock because he always had a burly look with a beard in winter, and here he was all slicked out and clean shaved. [Tuna was Evans' nickname that was tied to his love of fishing and Charlie the Tuna, the cartoon character for Starkist.]

Chris Karr, a Killington nightclub entrepreneur, got his start at the Wobbly in 1981 when Evans hired him as a barback and doorman. He credits his own passion for the business partly to having learned from Evan. Karr went on to a management position at the Pickle Barrel and later bought it and now also owns Jax Food and Games and the Foundry at Summit Pond. He spoke eloquently about the role Evans played in his own life on WCAX last week.

Leo Denis, who has known Evans for many years - starting as his landlord in Killington and as a fishing buddy in later years - recalled that when Evans moved to Idaho around 15 to 16 years ago, he lived out of a camper year round.

"He settled in a town called Island Park where he became an institution and everyone knew him. He fished Henry's Fork every day and knew it well. They even named a section of it Evansville after him," Denis noted.

"Bob lived there from mid-May to September and then went to the Grand Ronde River [a tributary of the Snake River in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington] for a month of Steelhead Trout fishing before heading south to New Mexico for the winter," Denis added.

Denis, who was due to join Evans for his annual week of fishing at Henry's Fork with him in July, noted that he was deeply saddened to get a call from Evans' friend who told him of Bob's death. "Bob had a medical condition that was most likely responsible for his going down into the water - he didn't fall into the river. He was fishing when he went down, and someone near him noticed but they weren't able to revive him," Denis said.

Evans introduced Denis to Henry's Fork, a 127-mile stream which is famous for its excellent fishing [a tributary of the Snake River], years ago. "Bob was very open and helpful with his knowledge on fishing. Henry's Fork is a frustrating place to fish - you have to know what you are doing. The Rainbow Trout are 24-25 inches and you're there with these little flies … it's an art to bring big fish in without their breaking the line. The way you fish that river is to stand at a spot on the river and wait to see the fish come up - you see a nose or fin. Then you slide into the river and chase that fish by putting the fly in front of their nose."

But one time, Evans remarked that Denis couldn't see the fish and needed to get his eyes checked. Sure enough, Denis had cataracts and did better the next year.

Denis also recalled a time when Evans suggested that they go fishing one night at a place on Henry's Fork where a folk festival was to be held. "We were the only two in the river … the music started and it was just beautiful … the moonlight and Tetons were there in the distance. It was a lovely place," he said. But for some reason Denis was the one catching the fish that night and Evans didn't. "It drove him nuts," Denis recalled with a chuckle at the memory.

"Bob also introduced me to folks who lived in campers; they moved around to various campsites - due to a 16-day limit, they often swapped sites. Bob had a routine and led a structured life of breakfast, fishing till noon, lunch, reading in the afternoon, supper, and then fishing till 9 or 9:30 at night.

"He loved his life and fished every day. He invited friends out to fish. I stayed in a tent next to his camper. He taught me to play Gin Rummy and took my money. I got better at it.

"One time he gave a talk about fishing in Rutland and told people he lived on less than $15,000 a year. He was happy and he never got bored with fishing - he was committed to Henry's Fork and called it 'my stream.' It was strictly catch and release," Denis added, noting he didn't kill or eat the fish but enjoyed the challenge and peacefulness of fishing a beautiful place.

"My first reaction was I wasn't going to go out but after thinking it over, I am going," Denis said. It was part of his realization of his own enjoyment of the great fishing there, but also an expression of the appreciation and love of Henry's Fork that Evans had imparted.

A remembrance message posted outside the Wobbly Barn expresses condolences to Evans' family, noting he will be missed.
In addition to his many friends, Evans is survived by his former wife Nancy, daughters Dana and Stacey, son Jason, and grandchildren. Information about a memorial service will appear in a future edition of The Mountain Times.

Photo courtesy of Winnie Denis