Chattanoogan: Mike Evatt – The Sweat Of His Brow

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey

“Many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities.”
- Ludwig von Mises

With the many shortcuts in life we have the choice to take the shortcut or to work hard, but Mike Evatt doesn’t have a choice – hard work is a way of life no matter what successes may surround him.

Chattanooga born and raised, you may know Mike as the son of former Hamilton County Sheriff H.Q. Evatt. Though his parents divorced when he was just a baby, Mike felt fortunate to grow up with two sets of parents as his mother and father married other people.


Fascinated with baseball, Mike collected baseball cards and he played Pony League baseball. He enjoyed the sport up through his high school years and would later play adult softball with good friends. 

Mike spent nearly every weekend at his father’s bird hunting, water skiing and fishing, but as he observed police politics, Mike says a career in law enforcement ‘could get down and dirty’ and he holds his stepmother Bobbie in high esteem for handling it well.

“They were perfect for each other. She supported him in his career and was like another mother to me and a best friend at times. She took good care of my father during his illness,” Mike says.

In high school, Mike was involved in ROTC at East Ridge High. He earned outstanding cadet his junior year and was selected as battalion commander during his senior year. Mike had plans to join the Army, but puppy love got in his way and he chose not to leave.

“At 18, you think you only have a short time on this earth to do what you want. I had done everything except sign the papers to enlist. I just never did go back over there,” Mike says.

College wasn’t an aspiration for Mike as he had already been working and he really enjoyed it. He didn’t choose to work at one of the popular hangouts to see his friends or to just have a little gas money. Mike rolled up his sleeves with Hamilton County Schools and got ‘down and dirty’ with a labor-intensive job in maintenance.

There was something about the physical hard work that made Mike feel alive and part of something productive.

“I liked working and liked working for the school system. I started working for them during the summer before my junior year. The first day on the job they put me in the back of a dump truck full of asphalt and I was shoveling hot asphalt into a curb machine and was pouring asphalt curbs,” Mike remembers. The work was blistering and exhausting. It took an exceptional young man to choose sweat and sore muscles over selling popcorn at the theater.

“I learned so much about hard work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed who I worked with and I worked hard. I was taught to be responsible and how to manage money,” Mike vows.

Between his father and step-father’s example, Mike learned valuable character traits he would take with him through the rest of his life.

The following summer, Mike wanted to be back with the same crew, but he was placed working with a boiler mechanic assisting in the boiler room, changing gas burners and other various tasks.

After his senior year, Mike called his boss and asked if he could get on the grounds crew again. His boss replied, “That’s the hardest job we’ve got…” and Mike insisted, “That’s the job I want.”

In 1974, the city annexed the Tyner area and the crew did a major overhaul on the inside of the building and asphalted the parking lots. They did the same thing at Bess T. Shepherd and, while there, the director of maintenance came by while Mike and another young man were busy pouring concrete.

“He asked us, ‘Are you boys going to do this the rest of your life?’ and I said, ‘No sir. We are going to go to school.’ And so …33 years later I was still there,” Mike chuckles.

Mike stayed with the school system and was involved in the carpenter apprenticeship program through the help of his boss. While installing new window units at Piney Woods Elementary, Mike caught a glimpse of the blonde first grade teacher who was wearing a short skirt and knee-high socks and would later become his wife.

“Being a 23-year-old guy, I saw that she was pretty and asked a female custodian ‘who is that? I’d like to meet her’,” Mike recalls.

Later, as Mike was off working somewhere in the building that custodian came up to him and said, “Mr. Evatt, come here a minute.”

With a caulk-gun in hand, Mike followed the girl and she led them to Rebecca Stone’s first grade classroom.

“I had no clue what she was going to do and she said, ‘Mr. Evatt, this is Miss Stone… Miss Stone, this is Mr. Evatt’ and she turned around and walked out,” Mike laughs. “It left me dumbfounded and I just said, ‘Hi’. My wife told me later that she had her eye on me too.”

Over the years, Mike has worked hard rolling up his sleeves ready to tackle whatever needed to be done and advanced to managerial positions. He worked for the school system until he retired in 2007 and decided to form Evatt Construction.

Business was phenomenal and Mike enjoyed what he was doing. “There are good things and bad things about working for yourself,” Mike admits. “There is the paperwork you take home at night, but also …if you want to take off to play golf - you take off.”

After three or so years after launching his own business, a friend encouraged Mike to run for the school board. When he asked Rebecca what she thought, her answer was, “I don’t know of anyone more qualified,” and Mike threw his name in the hat. He was elected to be on the school board in 2010 and the next three years served as chairman.
 
Rebecca and Mike have three grown children, sons, Jordan and Tyler and daughter, Sarah (Sadie). They were excited last year to welcome their first grandchild (Tyler’s son Tate) into the world.

Today, Mike likes to hunt with his son and also enjoys working around the house. “I was in Nashville all weekend with my son Jordan. We dug up his yard and planted shrubs and laid mulch. Jordan has always been the family geek - really into computers. At 12 years old he had a laptop taken apart in several pieces and he put it back together and it worked! We knew his passion would be computers. He is a programmer in Nashville and he does a great job. He doesn’t hunt, but he loves to shoot a gun. Our past time is target shooting,” Mike says.

“Because Tyler stayed home, he developed the interest in hunting and golf and I was able to teach him. We go hunting and he plays golf with me, but now that Tate was born it is few and far between. Then there is Sarah. She is a junior at Ole Miss. I am a die-hard Tennessee fan, but when your daughter goes to Ole Miss, you switch loyalties,” Mike laughs.

“She grew up a dancer and is now going to nursing school. I don’t get much time with her anymore. When she comes home she goes to see friends or goes shopping with her mom… but she and I are very close,” Mike says.

Rebecca is a literacy specialist teaching sophomore English at Ooltewah High School. She and Mike spend time visiting the kids and their grandson or watching ballgames at Ole Miss.

On Labor Day last year, Mike announced that he was going to run for Circuit Court clerk. In the meantime there was just too much going on in his personal life as his mother took ill and his grandson had been born with clubfeet.

“That sort of put everybody in a tailspin because …what do you do now? There was just a three- or four-month period where I couldn’t do anything, but focus on family,” Mike discloses.

When Tate was 10 days old, friend Perry Perkins who was on the board of directors at Shriner’s Hospital engaged the family with Shriners in Lexington and they began treatment procedures.

“He is five months old now and things are getting straight. He still has to wear a brace, but his feet are all but perfect right now,” Mike says.

Having decided to scale back his business, Mike sold his dump truck and his trailer and began picking and choosing what jobs he had the time to do.

As his grandson and his mother were doing better, a new opportunity came by way of a phone call from a friend. He asked Mike to consider a position with the national firm ABM Southern Management that services K-12 school systems across the southern United States.

After a few conversations over the next two weeks, Mike was offered the position of business development manager.

Always giving 110 percent, Mike felt he could not stay on the school board and achieve satisfactory results with the same effort while also traveling with his new position. He decided not to seek re-election on the Hamilton County School Board.
 
Mike grew up working hard and technically, he began at age 12 working with his step-father.
 
“I would get up and go to work with him. I cut the grass, cleaned bathrooms and swept the bays. Once you learn how to do something with your hands it is very rewarding. As a carpenter I worked hard all day and could turn around and look at what I’d done …and it is rewarding,” Mike says.

“And, with the school system you are doing what you do for somebody and we have to be there and take care of them and to have a servant’s heart. Kids need to have a good place to learn,” Mike maintains, “and that is why I am so involved with the facilities planning in this board role.”

With several schools needing to be renovated or replaced and working the budget to make it happen, Mike is committed by the sweat of his brow and putting his servant’s heart to work.

He declares, “Hard work pays off - you can’t go wrong with working hard.”

jen@jenjeffrey.com



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