The phone call blindsided Dessie Evans.
When Puyallup School District operations manager Mario Casello reached out to the 63-year-old retired teacher, he told her they were looking for names for their new elementary school.
“I’m thinking, ‘Where is he going with this?’” Evans said.
As it turns out, her name had been thrown into the mix of recommendations.
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“I said to him, ‘I’m not interested,’” Evans admitted.
The new elementary had gathered a list of seven possible names for their new school at 7911 144th St. E., Puyallup. In April, the Puyallup School Board voted to name the new school Dessie Evans Elementary.
But it took some convincing to get there.
After talking with her family and receiving calls of encouragement by Puyallup School Board members, Evans agreed to let her name be considered.
“I do not feel I deserve it though I worked very hard,” Evans said. “I feel it is an honor the Lord has bestowed on me.”
Originally from Frierson, Louisiana, Evans decided she wanted to teach in sixth grade.
“By the time I was in high school I was inspired because I had a teacher who played games. And I said, ‘I can make learning fun,’” Evans said.
Evans attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She applied for an Affirmative Action Program and moved to Washington, where she was a student teacher at Redmond Junior High. She didn’t expect to stay there for longer than a few years.
“I had no intention of staying here because all of my family is in the South,” she said.
But her faith comforted her and her love for teaching kids encouraged her to stay.
At 20 years old, she interviewed with the Puyallup School District and was hired to teach at Kalles Junior High. At first, teaching there came as a culture shock.
“I came from a predominantly black environment and school,” Evans said.
In her first year, Evans remembered her car was egged and derogatory names were written on the blackboard. But Evans focused on the positives.
That first year, she was asked to coach the JV basketball team, despite not knowing anything about basketball, she said. The team won all their games that first year, and it remains one of Evans’ favorite memories.
“One of the things that remained constant were that the principals and most of the teachers were very dedicated... There were people at Kalles that were outstanding, helpful people to me,” Evans said.
Evans continued to teach language arts and history at Kalles for the next 33 years — never once switching to another school.
“The most you can do for junior high kids is find out how to love them (and) try to encourage them as best you can,” she said.
Her students still come back to visit her. One student told her she’d changed his life by teaching through games as he was struggling with a tough home life.
“A heart the size of a football — everything that you can think about what a great educator is, what a great person is, and when you mesh all that together, it’s Dessie Evans,” Casello said at the elementary groundbreaking on April 20.
Evans retired in 2008 and was a substitute teacher at Kalles for two and a half years. She has three children who went through the Puyallup School District, and three grandchildren. A 40-year Puyallup resident, Evans lives with her husband, Johnny Evans Jr.
Dessie Evans Elementary is expected to open in fall 2019 with a capacity of 1,080 students.
“I hope this new elementary is filled with staff and students who all treat each other with respect and lift each other up,” Evans said. “Differences should be embraced as long as they do not engender hatred or hurting or endangering oneself or others. All should work hard and do their best because it will create a stronger more coherent society. I want each student to know that he or she is special and as a favorite poster of mine stated, ‘You can never raise yourself by lowering others.’”