Alf Evers '29
Author, preservationist, and the preeminent chronicler of his beloved Catskills, was born on February 2, 1905, in New York City. The son of Ivan E. and Anna Evers, he moved with his family at the age of 9 from the Bronx to Tillson in the Catskill foothills, where his parents tried their hand at pig farming. When the venture failed, the family settled in nearby New Paltz, where Alf was graduated from high school. He came to Hamilton in 1925 and remained on the Hill for a year. He later attended the Art Students League in New York City and found employment as a door-to-door salesman for the Fuller Brush Co. and as an insurance claims investigator.
Alf Evers' career as a writer began when he and his wife, Helen Baker, an illustrator, collaborated in preparing greeting cards for the Norcross Co. A succession of children's books followed, some 50 in all, which he wrote and his wife illustrated. During World War II, while residing in Connecticut, Alf oversaw local fuel distribution. After the war, and soon to be divorced, he moved back to the Catskills, first to Woodstock before eventually settling into a Civil-War-era home in the nearby hamlet of Shady.
Fascinated by Catskills history and lore, and impelled by a lively curiosity, Alf Evers began doing research and contributing articles to newspapers in an effort to set the historical record straight regarding regional myths and legends. When an editor for Doubleday suggested that he write a book on Catskills history, Alf eagerly plunged in, making the rounds of the region, uncovering the human side of its history, mostly by jeep and on foot, and on a person-to-person basis. After years of research and slow-paced, meticulous writing and revising, the result was The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock (1972). Sound scholarship combined with lively prose, it remains to this day the definitive history of the region.
By the time of its publication, Alf Evers, had already gained recognition as "a living repository of local history and folklore," and as a spellbinding storyteller much in demand on the lecture circuit. Besides serving on the editorial board of the New York Folklore Quarterly, as vice president of the New York State Historical Society, and Woodstock town historian, he continued to write, resulting in 1987 in Woodstock: History of an American Town, a colorful and captivating account of that community. It was followed in 1995 by In Catskill Country: Collected Essays on Mountain History, Life and Lore, published on his 90th birthday.
Alf Evers, a congenial and gracious man, generously bearded and with a gentle sense of humor, loved gardening. He especially enjoyed caring for his four acres of woodland, trying to maintain them as refuges for native ferns and flowering plants. As a preservationist, he often spoke to local groups on the need to limit development in the Catskills, which was to him a treasured place. Living the simple life, he chopped his own firewood into his 90s. When immobilized by the infirmities of old age and suffering from loss of sight as well as hearing, he determinedly continued to write. He was particularly committed to the completion of his history of Kingston, on which he had labored for a decade. He put the finishing touches on the final draft of the 700-page Kingston-on-Hudson: An American Historical City, the day before his death and just weeks before his 100th birthday.
Alf Evers died at his home in Shady on December 29, 2004. He is survived by a son and daughter, Christopher and Barbara Evers, and nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. The many attendees at Alf Evers' memorial service ranged from Bard College's president Leon Botstein to the famed folklore singer Pete Seeger, who led those present in a rousing rendition of This Land is Your Land, a fitting tribute to Alf.