94 and Can't Stop

He helps seniors who, like him, want to live in their own homes.

Bernard Evans takes a walk in Rittenhouse Square. Evans volunteers for Penn's Village, a group of senior citizens who live in Center City and choose to live at home. (MICHAEL PRONZATO / Staff Photographer)

When he greets you, man or woman, Bernard Evans looks you right in the face and gives you a strongman hug and a kiss on the cheek.

At age 94, they're the best gifts he can give.

Evans volunteers for Penn's Village, a network of senior citizens who live in Center City and want to grow old in their own homes.

Seniors who sign up to become members of Penn's Village can take advantage of services including transportation to doctor's visits and shopping, as well as visits from friendly volunteers.

A retired dentist who served as an Army oral surgeon during World War II, Evans is one of those volunteers. He visits with three people right now who are among the organization's members.

Evans strolls about town with a walker and lives in Rittenhouse Square. He and his lady friend keep a favorite table at Parc, a table for two in the back on the Locust Street side, where it's quiet. She is the only woman he has ever loved besides his childhood sweetheart and wife, Elaine.

Retirement for Evans? It means giving back to senior citizens.

He retired from endodontic dentistry in 2005 because of macular degeneration in one eye, but he keeps up to date in the field because of an intensely active mind. Evans graduated from Overbrook High School after skipping a few grades and graduated college at age 20. Then the war intervened.

He was stationed at Fort Knox for several years before returning home to open a dental practice in West Philadelphia and raise a family.

At the war's end, "I closed up the Army's dental clinic, and they told me I could take the supplies home. I bought a duplex at 50th and Spruce, and we lived upstairs. My office was downstairs."

From 1946 to about 2005, he worked as a dentist and performed surgery. His first patient was a paperboy with no teeth who wanted dentures.

"I charged him $35 and yelled upstairs to my wife, 'Hey, we get to eat tonight!' I thought the guy would run away and not come back."

Why volunteer now, at 94?

"It just feels good to me. I get the joy of living."

"Elderly people need contact to absorb anything. They need someone to touch," he says. "When I meet them, I give them a hug and a kiss. The elderly don't have anyone who feels as they do, who grows into being them."

He pauses over his coffee at Marathon restaurant on Spruce Street.

"I've been close enough to death, so what's the sense in looking forward to it? I don't think how old are you. Whatever deity is out there has never revealed that secret."

Women are a "wonderful creation," says Evans, who began to date again after being widowed.

"God created Adam, and realized, 'What a loser!' He started over, and he created Eve," Evans says.

He and his wife "only knew each other for 75 years," he says with a smile.

They met at a party when Elaine was 15 and he was 15½. He went home that night and told his parents that he'd met the girl he was going to marry. She proposed five years later.

"She thought that it was time, before we did anything wrong," Evans recalls. They had three children and seven grandchildren. His oldest daughter just turned 66.

When Elaine was dying, Evans says, his doctor called him in for a sit-down and said, "You're going to feel like you're in a dense, dark forest. One day a long time from now, you'll see a crack of light. Walk right into it. Make room for that path."

Three years ago, Evans met a woman at an Art Alliance concert he attended with friends. A group of them went out for drinks afterward. Evans ordered his usual Maker's Mark.

Something woke up.

"I stayed up all night pacing the floor. I couldn't sleep a wink."

Evans phoned the woman the next morning and asked her to "share our second cup of coffee together. We've been doing that ever since."

Evans first volunteered to visit with a couple of Penn's Village members living in Independence Place. He outlived them both.

Today, his rounds are with a couple that includes a man disabled by Parkinson's disease. Evans visits on Fridays to relieve the wife and spend some hours with her husband, also a retired physician.

"He can't speak. But I read to him, and he understands. The other night, his eyes lit up. We were talking about music."

As a retired dentist, "I know faces. I look right at them, and let these folks lip-read. And they won't let me leave without a hug."

Another man with whom Evans volunteers needs physical rehabilitation. Evans works out with a trainer from the Veterans Administration, and "I show him some of my moves."

With yet another Penn's Village member, Evans plans on surf casting and fishing from a pier in Avalon this summer.

"My life has been long," he says. "And great."


earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808

@erinarvedlund

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