Gerry Avant: How Sister Joy F. Evans learned the true purpose of Relief Society

I remember an interview I had with Joy F. Evans shortly after she was called in 1984 to serve as Barbara W. Winder’s first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. One particular anecdote she shared lodged in my memory.

She told me about the first time she attended a Relief Society meeting. It was 1947, and she was a new bride. In that meeting, the  ward’s Relief Society president counseled visiting teachers to “see if there is anything amiss in the homes you visit.”

“I thought she said ‘a mess,’” Sister Evans told me. “I went for years thinking the visiting teachers came to my house to see what kind of housekeeper I was.”

Sister Evans’ background gave her little understanding of the Relief Society organization. Although she was born and reared in Salt Lake City her parents, Sidney H. and Viola Taylor Frewin, had little to do with the Church. Still, Joy went to Primary with neighborhood children. When she turned 8, her Primary teacher saw to it that she would be baptized.

“My parents were very supportive of my being in the Church,” she said. “They were pleased to have their only child doing what they thought was a good thing, but they were never interested for themselves.”

When she was 12, she made a decision that caused her to drop out from Church activity. “When I was old enough to go to what was then called Mutual — Young Women now — my mother told me I could be a Girl Scout or go to Mutual, but I couldn’t do both. I had to make the decision. Since Girl Scout camp sounded like more fun than Mutual girls camp — it had horses to ride and a lake in which to swim and canoe — I chose to be a Girl Scout.”

She didn’t go to Church again until she was a junior in high school. The Frewin family moved from Salt Lake City’s Capitol Hill area to the city’s east bench, where a friend from school invited her to go to Sunday School. “That was the beginning of reactivation for me,” she said.

That Sunday School class was important to young Joy Frewin for another reason: she met a lanky University of Utah freshman named David C. Evans. They started going out together, “and we have been going together ever since,” she said.

Their courtship was interrupted for four years by World War II. While David served in the military in Europe Joy finished high school and earned her nursing degree from the University of Utah. They were married on March 21, 1947, in the Salt Lake Temple. Soon thereafter, she began her Relief Society experience, and tried to be sure her house was not “a mess” when her visiting teachers came calling.

“I loved Relief Society, but I didn’t participate very much,” she said of those early years in Salt Lake’s Garden Park Ward. “There were some wonderful, powerful women in that ward. Aunt Alice (wife of Elder Richard L. Evans of the Council of the Twelve, David’s uncle) was the spiritual living teacher, and Minerva Bennion (wife of Elder Adam S. Bennion, an Apostle) taught the literature classes.”

Sister Evans said she wasn’t exactly intimidated. “I just didn’t feel I had anything to offer. But I did have much to learn and they were very good teachers. It was like having a roomful of mothers.”

When I met Sister Evans, she still remembered her early years and how unprepared she felt as a relatively new active member of the Church in a Relief Society full of long-time members and General Authorities’ wives. She expressed hopes that her experiences would help her be sensitive to Relief Society sisters who might feel, as she once did, that “I didn’t have very much to offer.”

The next Relief Society she attended was much different. After her husband earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Utah, they moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a computer engineer. 

“There were lots of young families in our ward,” Sister Evans said. “Many of the young mothers were away from their own mothers for the first time. We became very close to each other. We needed each other. I think that’s where I really learned about Relief Society, and the kind of service that can be offered by anyone, regardless of background or experience.”

From that time forward, service was a key component of Joy Evans’ life. She served more than eight years as a member of the Relief Society general board, as a stake and ward Relief Society president and in various positions in the Relief Society, Primary and Young Women organizations.

Brother and Sister Evans had 10 children (including Elder David F. Evans, General Authority Seventy) and, for many years, reared two Native American children.

She and her husband served in the Tennessee Nashville Mission. After his death in 1998, she served missions to the Preston England and Manila Philippines temples.

Beverly Joy Frewin Evans was born on Jan. 31, 1926; she died on July 5, 2011.