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He was shot while serving the United States in the Vietnam War—a life-threatening injury that led him to spend nearly eight months in an Army hospital.
He worked in a steel mill and did road construction to help pay for his college education.
He also founded a health care company in Indianapolis, leading it back from the verge of bankruptcy at one point.
For Michael Evans, all those experiences have shaped his approach to life. He firmly believes that the choices we make, the trials we endure and the dreams we follow will eventually lead us to a defining moment in our lives.
On Aug. 24, Evans lived one of those defining moments when it was revealed that he had donated $48 million to Marian University—to jumpstart the Indianapolis college’s plan to create a medical school that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Marian’s president, Daniel Elsener, also announced that the building for the new college for osteopathic medicine and the school of nursing will be called the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences.
Both announcements were reluctantly agreed to by Evans, a 1957 graduate of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in New Albany and 1961 graduate of Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville.
For 18 months, Evans had declined Elsener’s request to have his contribution made public and have his name attached to the center. But Elsener kept asking Evans to reconsider. The college president finally persuaded the benefactor that it would be beneficial to have the center connected to a person who believes in the need for another medical school in Indiana.
“This wasn’t about me,” Evans said. “It’s more about educating young men and young women to be doctors and nurses. There’s the thought that having my name on it will personalize it. People can identify with it, relate to it and support it. But for me, it’s about letting these young people use their talents to give back to our citizens. We have a terrible health care problem in this country. One of the answers is getting more health care professionals out there.”
Still, the 67-year-old Evans acknowledges that many of the values and priorities of his life became connected during the groundbreaking ceremony.
“Everything kind of came together in that moment,” said Evans, who has led AIT Laboratories in Indianapolis since 1990. “It really did bring things together in a lot of ways—my love for education, my involvement in health care, my willingness to help others.
“I’ve been given a lot of gifts in life. My favorite parable in the Bible is the parable of the talents. You’re called to use your talents to the best of your abilities, and use them for the betterment of others.”
Elsener alluded to those qualities when he talked about Evans during the groundbreaking ceremony.
“Our hope is that every student who is educated here will be inspired by his legacy and understand how they can share their gifts with others as selflessly as he has,” Elsener noted.
Evans says his desire to lead and inspire people came from the moment in Vietnam when he nearly lost his life.
After graduating from St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 1967, Evans was drafted into the Army. Two years later, he was seriously injured when he was shot during combat.
“An inch either way and I’d be dead,” he says. “It took a couple hours to get a chopper in and out to help me. I think things happen for a reason. Even when I was in the hospital, I knew I was lucky. I felt blessed when I saw the other injuries that people had in the hospital.
“I really think that it made me what I am today. I did not want to waste my time. I’m competitive. It made me passionate about being productive, of being of value to other people. Any place I was after Vietnam, I always did the extra stuff.”
His faith also guides his life.
“It’s a huge part,” he says. “It’s not the external faith. It’s more inside. I grew up as an altar boy. It’s part of who I am. You do that by your actions, not your words.”
He believes that the faith-based education that shaped his youth is just as important today.
“Faith-based education based on values gives a wholeness to the person that stays with them their whole life,” he says. “That’s very important to me.”
Important enough that Evans put aside his personal preference to remain anonymous in his support of Marian University’s future medical center.
“It’s an osteopathic school that has a faith-based approach,” he says. “It’s a different education. I feel like if I donate the money to it, it will be put to the best possible use.
“We all want to make an impact. It’s our nature as humans to want to help one another, particularly if we can make a difference. This is creating something new from scratch, and it will put out 150 new doctors every year. At the end of the day, I think this will be an impact that will carry on forever.” †