Professor Wayne Evans Remembered for Work in Indian Education

Wayne Evans, USD professor emeritus known for his work in Native American education in South Dakota, died Friday. (Photo courtesy of Christina Wells)

Wayne Evans, USD professor emeritus known for his work in Native American education in South Dakota, died Friday. (Photo courtesy of Christina Wells)

Published August 26, 2016

VERMILLION, SOUTH DAKOTA — Wayne Evans, a University of South Dakota professor emeritus known for his leadership in Native American education in the state, died Friday, Aug. 26, in Vermillion at age 78.

“Wayne had always been one to make his own path,” said Chuck Swick, former director of Upward Bound at USD. “He was always as supportive as one can be for student services and university/community relations.”

Evans started his time at USD working with Upward Bound and hired Swick to work alongside him in the late 1960’s. After about a year of working together, Evans moved into the School of Education to start his teaching career. “After he left Upward Bound, he made sure to continue to stay involved on campus and work with the native community,” said Swick.

“Wayne maintained close relationships with numerous colleagues and friends around campus and throughout the community,” said Mark Baron, associate dean for the School of Education. “He was known to everyone as approachable and always willing to listen or help out whenever he was able.”

Evans was also known as a Wase Wakpa Elder, spiritual leader and speaker, who often times gave lectures at various conferences and schools throughout the country. He also co-directed a nonprofit organization that provided Native American cultural resources to different communities. Outside of USD, he was widely known as an announcer/eyapaha as well as the drum keeper for the Oyate Singers.

Evans was most known for his work with American Indian education. “Almost anything involving education and native people, he was a part of at some level,” said Gene Thin Elk, director of USD Native Student Services. “He was involved in helping native students retain their culture. He had a large impact on a lot of the present-day superintendents, principals and other people involved in education.”

“In the state of South Dakota, everyone has to take an Indian education class in order to get their teaching certificate, and for a long time he was one of the only people to teach that class,” said Christina Wells, Evans’ granddaughter and USD alumna. “So at one time, pretty much any teacher in South Dakota had taken his class, whether it was a correspondence class or at USD.”

“He has had a major impact on education throughout the state of South Dakota and has been a mentor to many, many people,” Thin Elk said.

Evans, Sicangu Lakota, was born on April 19, 1938, in Rosebud, South Dakota, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He received his bachelor of science degree at Black Hills State College in 1962 and graduated with his M.A. in educational psychology in 1968 and Ed.D. in 1978, both from USD. 

He served as a former president for the South Dakota Indian Education Association as well as in USD positions of director of Upward Bound, coordinator of Indian Academic Programs, director of American Indian Student Services. Evans became an associate professor of education at USD in 1969. After retiring in 2004, he returned to teach for a few more years and retired a second time once he reached 40 years at USD in 2009. As a result of his dedication and commitment to USD, he and wife Patty in 2006 were the first couple to be named co-grand marshals of USD’s Dakota Days Parade.

“Growing up, everywhere we went, somebody knew him,” said Wells. “He always was a prominent advocate for higher education and its use in educating on the Lakota way of life.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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