LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 3, 2023) — The article below appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Kentucky Alumni magazine.
The best way to describe Ann Evans is as a Renaissance woman — caterer, event planner, fundraiser, marketing guru, business administrator and community outreach specialist. These skills and abilities, along with specialized training in etiquette and protocol at the highest level, have stood her in good stead as the only person to serve as executive director of the Kentucky Governor's Mansion under father and son governors.
“I am a lifelong Kentuckian (a Louisville native) and passionate in my love for the Commonwealth,” says Evans. “Except for a year-and-a-half spent in Paris, Kentucky, I’ve never lived more than a few miles from the University of Kentucky campus.”
Evans graduated from UK in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in journalism (now part of the College of Communication and Information). She was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, serving as president of her pledge class and first vice-president of the sorority. In her senior year, she was named Ideal Kappa Sister, an honor she still considers the highest tribute to her character and commitment. Evans was also nominated for Outstanding Greek Woman in 1974, and the dinner honoring the nominees turned out to be an evening she would never forget. It wasn’t because she won — she didn’t — but as she explains, “It was April 3, the same night the super tornado spawned dozens of tornadoes across Kentucky.”
During her college years, when Evans wasn’t playing left guard on the Kappa flag football team, she was involved in campus political campaigns, and learning major life lessons.
“The first was broadening my horizons through meeting students from different parts of Kentucky, the United States and the world,” she says. “I realized that I gained energy from people and that whatever I did when I left UK would involve service to others.”
But the most important thing she learned was the value of friendship.
“I have been so blessed with lifelong friendships that started on campus — friendships that have helped shape my life and career,” she says.
She also left with a souvenir — a front page Heald-Leader photo of her in cap and gown, with a sandwich board sign on her back proclaiming that she had finally made it and thanking her mom.
“After the ceremony, Dr. Singletary (then President Otis Singletary) came up to me and said, ‘young lady,did you wear that during graduation.’” Fearing he was upset, she responded, “’Yes, sir.’ He smiled and patted me on the back, saying, 'congratulations to both you and your mother.’”
Upon graduation, Evans was hired by Kentucky Educational Television (KET) where she served as the PBS affiliate’s community services coordinator. She was responsible for developing and implementing KET’s outreach programs, as well as developing a speaker’s bureau and recruiting and training a statewide network of volunteers. After nearly a decade at KET, she left to follow a dream — opening her own catering and event planning company, based on the skills she had acquired from her mother Marydeane, who had owned her own company.
“Everything I know about cooking and being a hostess, I learned from my mother,” she says proudly.
After she accepted a full-time position as director of volunteers, and later regional director of the American Lung Association of Kentucky, she continued to run her catering company. When she wasn’t recruiting and training volunteers, establishing the first Teen Board in the U.S. to promote lung health, and coordinating special programs such as camps for those suffering from asthma, she was catering everything from weddings to horse sales events. Evans was reluctant to give up the catering company for several reasons. Not just her skill in the kitchen, but more importantly, the love for her clients, whom she describes as being like family.
“I still have people come up to me and say, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but you catered my wedding.’ And you know what? I do remember them,” she says.
In 2007, Evans’ career arc took an entirely different trajectory when she became executive director of the Governor’s Mansion during Gov. Steve Beshear’s two terms in office. She planned, budgeted and executed hundreds of events for the governor and first lady, from breakfasts, lunches, dinners, banquets and receptions to eight Kentucky Derby galas. In 2014, she helped coordinate the Governor’s Mansion Centennial, celebrating 100 years of the mansion.
If her catering skills were key to the 2014 project, her fundraising abilities were invaluable in 2009 when she helped coordinate the restoration of the Old Governor’s Mansion — the country’s oldest executive residence. Her efforts helped raise more than $1.5 million in in-kind contributions, ensuring that zero tax dollars would be spent on the project. Additionally, she co-produced a documentary,“The Kentucky Governor’s Mansion — a Century of Reflection,” narrated by Louisville native Diane Sawyer, which aired on KET.
After Beshear left office, Evans accepted a position as interim executive director at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass. She oversaw fundraising and donor engagement, but her interaction with the people served by the Ronald McDonald House always came first. Debbie Pinkston, a house manager during Evans’ time as director, describes her as “a ray of sunshine.”
“She came in every day with a big smile on her face,” says Pinkston. “She made the guests feel at home during a very trying time in their lives. She was loved by families and volunteers alike.”
Volunteerism has always been a cornerstone of Evans’ life, whether it was as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army or as a hostess during the Rolex Three-Day Equestrian Event. Her volunteer efforts have included working with the Future Farmers of America to champion Kentucky agriculture, and with Ball Homes to build a laundromat for the people of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. It wasn’t long before the siren song of politics once again lured her back to Frankfort — this time as executive advisor in the office of then Attorney General Andy Beshear. The position proved to be short-lived as upon Beshear’s election to the governorship in 2019, Evans once again found herself back in the executive mansion. However, the governor’s — and Evans’ — agenda would be vastly different from her earlier tenure at the mansion. Whereas, she had been the face of the Commonwealth’s hospitality during the elder Beshear’s time in office, even earning the title “Queen of Kentucky Hospitality,” this time around she had to shift from party planning mode to crisis management mode.
With Andy Beshear beginning his young administration with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then having to face twin natural disasters in Eastern Kentucky floods and Western Kentucky tornadoes, there wasn’t time for socializing at the mansion. What hasn’t changed is her role as “caretaker of the people’s house,” one that “is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.” She feels privileged in other ways as well.
“I have met famous people from every walk of life,” she says, “but none with a better or more interesting story than the people I have met throughout the Commonwealth.”
With all her life experiences, Evans still cherishes her years at UK.
“I often find myself driving through campus, and seeing the students always puts a smile on my face,” she says. “I just hope they are having as good a time as I had."
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.