■ By Olivia Gildea / Reporter
There are a hundred thousand analogies for losing a beloved mother and member of the community, but none of them quite seems to hold a match to the loss of Evelyne K. Burke of San Jacinto.
As many who have had the pleasure of knowing her may remember, Burke was not just a lady, not just a mother, not just a realtor—she was a voraciously giving individual and one for whom we owe many of our local community services and organizations.
Evelyne Burke was born on Staten Island, N.Y. on July 28, 1927. Upon graduating high school in 1945, Burke began working in New York City. Every day she rode the train to the Staten Island Ferry, which shuttled her to Manhattan. From there, she would take the subway, finally arriving at work. Tirelessly, Burke worked for Western Union, Bell Telephone, and Sears in the complaint department (perhaps where she got her patience).
She met and married her husband, William John Burke, just after he returned from World War II. In 1951, they moved to Florida where William worked construction and Evelyne worked at Southern Bell until their first child, Allison, was born. Later, they moved to Idyllwild where they spent the rest of the 1950’s. There, Allison recalls, where most mothers were outfitted in flannel shirts and work boots, Evelyne went to her first PTA meeting dressed like Jackie Kennedy with a pillbox hat, gloves, heels, and nylons with seams up the back. After all, she was from New York.
In the face of recession in the early 60s, the Burke family moved into the old Shaver house in San Jacinto at 410 East Main Street. Evelyne was a stay-at-home mother and housewife. She managed to raise five children through economic hardship. In her spare time, Evelyne took up causes that were close to her and her family. She revived the Valley’s fading Boy Scout program to which her sons belonged. She became one of the first woman troop leaders and one of the first women to earn an award of merit.
Her neighbors across the street were so-called “cat ladies.” After reading an article in the newspaper, Evelyne grew concerned with the well-being of animals and convinced her neighbors—who were Dorothy Berg, and sisters Maude and Margarite—to start the Ramona Humane Society (initially named the Ramona Animal Haven).
When she became fed up with the public school system, Evelyne transferred her three sons to St. Hyacinth Academy. Upon learning that the Vatican was planning to close the school due to insufficient funding, Evelyne founded the Friends of St. Hyacinth, a fundraising organization that saved the school through proceeds generated from weekly bingo games.
After sending her youngest child off to school, Evelyne became a realtor. She was an active director in both the local and state Board of Realtors, the Women’s Council of Realtors, and she created the Valley Economic Development Council. She was elected president of the San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce and served on the board of the Downtown Business Association. Evelyne played a huge role in the city of San Jacinto’s selection for the state’s Main Street Program, which helps revitalize historic main-street business districts.
John Bacher, who served as president of Hemet’s Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Evelyne’s time as president at the San Jacinto chamber, remembers Evelyne as an asset to the community and a pleasure to work with.
“She was a nice sharp lady—emphasis on the lady,” Bacher says. “She will be missed.”
Evelyne was elected to the district board of Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District. In recognition of her service, a room at the first Valley-Wide facility is named in her honor.
She helped create, and served on the boards of, the Valley Mental Health Center, Valley Blind Center, and Valley Restart. Evelyne found the locations, researched everything, and taught herself how to write grants and obtain funding. She was appointed by consecutive county supervisors to the Tax Appeals Board and served as its chair for over 10 years. She was past president of the Hemet/San Jacinto Democratic Club and proudly called herself a “bleeding-heart liberal, and card-carrying member of the ACLU.”
Her motivation? According to Allison, if her mother saw a need, she filled it. That was just the way she was.
For the past 15 years, Evelyne was an active member of Rosewood Villas. When she first moved into the self-managed condominiums after her retirement, the residents elected her president. Out of retirement she came, focused once again on her community’s needs and how to fill them.
In her free time, Evelyne was an avid reader, enjoyed travelling with her husband, and was interested in discovering her genealogy the old-fashioned way—at the library. Her lineage was always something she planned to track in her retirement, a respite that never arrived.
As a mother, Evelyne was thoughtful and organized. She had a list of chores for the children to complete each day. She worked on a budget to ensure there was a meal on the table every night and clean slacks and dresses for the kids to wear to school the next morning. She was tireless, never-ending, and a gentle giant in a woman’s body. Allison recalls the social hardships her family endured after Evelyne had sold a house to a black family in the 60s, which was unheard of at the time amidst widespread racial prejudices. Yet when the next black family came along, Evelyne was at the head of the line to get the family the home it needed.
Evelyne never believed in receiving praise for her work. Offers for accolades and recognition were met with refusals from Evelyne, who seemed to feel most comfortable being outside the spotlight. In 2001, William Burke contacted The Press Enterprise to run an article about Evelyne’s achievements, without Evelyne’s knowledge.
“My wife isn’t going to talk to me for six months,” William was quoted at the time. “She doesn’t like any accolades. She does it all in the background. I say she’s my superwoman.”
Evelyne Burke died peacefully in her sleep in her daughter Joanne’s home under the wonderful care of hospice. She is survived by her children, Allison, and her husband Steve Reed, Joanne, Alan, and his wife Debbie, and Chris, and his wife Lesa. She was predeceased by her husband William and son Lauren, husband to Andi, now remarried to Tony Greer, who Evelyne loved as her own son-in-law. She is survived by 6 grandchildren, Bryan Burke, Steven Burke, Jacki Greer, Jenny Burke, Chris Greer, and Kayte Reed, and two great-grandchildren, Savannah Almaraz and Autumn Greer.
At Evelyne’s request, there will be no memorial or funeral services. In lieu of flowers, Evelyne requested that donations be made to one or another of her favorite charities: Doctors Without Borders, Paralyzed Veterans, PBS/KCET, and/or the ACLU. She will be buried in a private ceremony at the San Jacinto Valley Cemetery—which she helped found—next to her husband William and son Lauren. Evelyne will be sorely missed in the Hemet/San Jacinto communities, and by her family and all who knew her. May she rest in peace.