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A-T Fund Donor Spotlight: Joe Evans

There numerous were bright spots to Georgia Tech’s 2022 football season, with one of them being the Yellow Jackets’ thrilling 23-20 overtime win against Duke on Oct. 8. The win pushed the Jackets to 3-3 and was the second straight win under recently named interim head coach Brent Key.

The game was special for another reason, too. While the Jackets and Blue Devils were competing, a new member was being inducted into the Golden Jacket Society in the athletic director’s suite of Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Joe Evans, who graduated from Georgia Tech in 1971 with a degree in industrial management, was honored for his philanthropic support of Georgia Tech athletics, which includes the unrestricted annual scholarship fund, The Athletic Director’s Initiative, Building a Competitive Advantage Stadia Campaign, the Edge Center, Homer Rice Initiative, Jack Thompson Facility Fund, GTAA Ventures Fund and the Zelnak Basketball Facility Project.

As Georgia Tech president Dr. Ángel Cabrera was putting the Golden Jacket on Evans, the Jackets scored a touchdown.

“It was super cool and so appropriate,” said Alexander-Tharpe Fund senior director of development Mindy Hyde, keynote speaker at Evans’ ceremony, who has worked with Evans since the late-1990s. “Almost as if it was on cue.”

For Evans, the ceremony was a time of reflection for the role Georgia Tech played in his collegiate and professional careers.

“It was a special moment for what’s been a very rewarding journey of being engaged and involved with Georgia Tech, and I look forward to continuing that journey,” Evans said.

Evans grew up on a dairy farm in Smarr, a small town 20 minutes Northwest of Macon. According to the 2020 census, it has a population of 218. Always an outside-the-box thinker, he yearned to be more than a farmer. So, he decided to attend Georgia Tech in Greater Atlanta which, in 1971, had a population of 1,220,000.

There was an adjustment period.

“It’s a cultural light year from Smarr to Atlanta,” Evans said. “Just dealing with the size of (Georgia Tech’s campus) — my school had less than 500 students. I was dealing with a stepped-up academic environment and socially, I was adjusting to a whole new world. I have to admit, I was afraid of failing when I showed up there. I had serious doubts about the degree to which I was prepared.”

Fortunately for Evans, any homesickness or self-doubt quickly subsided, and he turned in a strong academic first quarter, pledged to a fraternity and was nominated for Freshman Forum by his English composition professor.

Georgia Tech was now home.

“All of those (first quarter accomplishments) validated that I was good enough to be there, and that I might make it out on the other side one day,” he said.

Upon graduating, he returned to small-town life in Macon, working as a banker. He started at a small, privately-owned bank from 1974-1980 learning basic banking fundamentals.

Fast-forward to 1999 and, once again, Evans’ ambitions called him away from smalltown life and back to the big city. He kept his farm home, but he and his wife, Raena, moved to Atlanta. For Evans, it was Déjà vu. Could he succeed in Atlanta?

Like decades before, it was Georgia Tech that delivered Evans a lifeline.

“It was like being dropped off on North Avenue all over again,” he said. “I was in a large community with no anchor points. As I sat down and thought about places I could start to begin a connection with in Atlanta, Georgia Tech was the first place that came to mind. I was encouraged to get involved with the alumni association. I stepped up my donations, and subsequently I joined the alumni association board and became its chair in 2009.”

As a CEO in Atlanta, Evans successfully built and sold banks. He ran Century South, then sold it to BB&T in 2001. Next, he repaired and sold Flag Financial to RBC in 2006. Finally, State Bank, his most ambitious undertaking, acquired a total of 12 failed banks between 2009-18, with their initial investment in the project at $2.5 billion. After what Evans describes as a “cleanup process,” State Bank sold its assets to Cadence Bancorp for $5 billion.

For Evans, Georgia Tech provided a degree early in life, and opened the door to professional connections later. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that Evans is happy to continue.

“Mindy and the other folks on the athletic development team have done a great job of making me feel like family there,” Evans said. “It’s a good feeling just to be a part of that broader team.”

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