Raised on a family grain farm near Humboldt with her 13 siblings, Evans saw first-hand the importance of hard work and dedication in order to be successful.
Evans left school at the end of Grade 8 to study business courses and began working at an office to save money for university. Ultimately, she completed her high school diploma at Regina College and later pursued post-secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).
Evans’ nephew, Eric Wesling, said he has many memories of his hard-working and compassionate aunt.
“My aunt always helped on the family farm as much as she could, hauling grain and combining,” he said. “Despite the long hours, she made time to visit my brother and I and read us stories. Then, she would hop back in the truck, get the grain that was harvested from the combines, and continue to help out.”
Thanks to her hard work, determination, and with the help of scholarships and loans, Evans received her medical degree at USask in 1963.
Throughout her studies, there were constant financial struggles to overcome. Despite these challenges, her family encouraged her to not give up.
“When she started going to school, she didn’t have a lot of money. For her to continue her education, she would work on days she wasn’t going to school and apply for scholarships and bursaries. That’s how Aunt Irene was able to finance her way through her education,” said Wesling.
Upon graduation, Evans accepted an internship at Vancouver General Hospital where she worked 18-hour days. She didn’t mind the long hours, however, because she wasn’t doing it for the money.
Her courage and tenacity were evident throughout her internship and Evans went on to become the first female doctor hired at Vancouver General Hospital. She went on to work for more than 25 years in a successful medical practice in Richmond, B.C., with her husband, Dr. Gwilym Evans (MD).
Her determination didn’t stop there, and during retirement she volunteered at numerous hospitals and retirement homes in Vancouver and area.
In 2017, Evans moved to Kelowna to be closer to Wesling, who she looked on as a son. Wesling would visit her daily and was familiar with her friends and the staff at her residence. He fondly recalled one Halloween when he paid a visit dressed as a doctor with his aunt’s stethoscope and a medical bag full of chocolate, and became known to everyone as “Dr. Chocolate”.
“The one thing I asked from Aunt Irene was for her medical bag, because I’ve always been fascinated by old movies where medical doctors carry their black medical bags. Ever since that Halloween, it became a tradition for me to hand out chocolates from a medical bag and bring joy to those around my aunt,” said Wesling.
Through her humble beginnings, Evans understood the value of attaining higher education and the financial expenses that come with being a student. Receiving donor-funded scholarships were meaningful during Evans’ medical studies, inspiring her to establish a generous gift in her will to support future medical students at USask.
Evans passed away in October 2019, but her legacy continues through the Doctors Gwilym and Irene Evans Award. The award supports two annual bursaries up to $20,000 each and four annual scholarships with a minimum value of $5,000 each, assisting students pursuing a medical degree at USask’s College of Medicine.
In recognition of her educational journey, students are selected for the bursaries based on financial need. Academic achievement and demonstration of empathy and compassion toward patients and their families are also reflected by the scholarship winners.
“Aunt Irene was a very kind, compassionate, and caring person,” said Wesling. “I think she simply would want people to have the opportunity to attend university and pursue their passion.”
If you are interested in learning more about making a gift in your will to support University of Saskatchewan students please contact Ashala Jacobson and the university’s gift planning team at 306-381-5909 or 1-800-699-1907 (toll-free), or visit the website at usask.ca/giftplanning.