|· · · · · · · · ·
|Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
550 N. College Ave, Claremont, CA 91711
Online Editor: Mark Kendall
For editorial matters:
Editor: Mark Wood
Phone: (909) 621-8158
Fax: (909) 621-8203
PCM Editorial Guidelines
Contact Alumni Records for changes of address, class notes, or notice
of births or deaths.
Phone: (909) 621-8635
Fax: (909) 621-8535
|· · · · · · · · ·
One Big Happy family
Martha Evans '57 has heard all the jokes
and endured all the suspicions, but this determined mother of 38 has no
By Rachel Stewart Johnson '96
“Where other people were afraid to go, I would tend to go.” Martha Evans
’57 is familiar with action. Her history bespeaks a matter-of-fact
credo: If there is a need, fill it. If there is a hurdle, clear it. A
problem, solve it.
Evans studied foreign languages while at Pomona and married during her
college years. She and her husband had five children together, the
second of whom was adopted. When their youngest child was still an
infant, she and her husband parted, and Evans began her life as a young
matriarch—making her own maps in an often cynical, disbelieving world.
Times were hard. With five youngsters under age 10 to care for, she
worked wherever she could, often taking multiple jobs in a single day:
substitute teacher, childcare worker, office staff member, Avon
salesperson. “It was hard. It was extremely hard,” she says. “But, you
know, it’s OK. You do what you have to. I’d never thought of going on
any kind of aid. I didn’t know enough to do that. I’d always been taught
that if you find it hard, get out, and brush off, and get to work. Get
another job—do something. Don’t just sit there and say ‘Poor me.’ Get up
and do it.”
Despite her own challenges, her gaze was shifted south of the border in
an early sign of the magnanimity that has come to characterize her
personal life. She began accompanying a friend on trips to a Tijuana
orphanage. Children vastly outnumbered caregivers at the modest
facility, and Evans was struck by their plight. When she met a desperate
woman who intended to leave her four children at the orphanage, Evans
pleaded with her to reconsider. Incredulous, the mother asked Evans: “Do
you want them?”
“You want all of them?”
The answer was yes. Indeed, the answer to similar questions has always
been yes. Today, Evans is the mother of 38 children. They were often
adopted in groups, as many as four at a time.
Many are now grown, with diverse careers from fisherman to physician,
with nearly 30 grandchildren added to the family. Twelve young people,
ranging in age from 6 to 21 years, still reside with Evans in a
sprawling hacienda north of San Diego.
Evans’ experience of motherhood is calibrated differently than most: she
drives a large van that has been known to seat as many as 20, her home
has 10 bedrooms, she often has more than 60 people in her home on
Christmas Eve, and at one time she had seven children in diapers.
Most of Evans’ adopted children were taken from difficult circumstances
marked by poverty and, in many cases, illness, disability or abuse.
“These were not the blond, blue-eyed babies that everyone wanted,” she
says. A first-generation American with a Norwegian mother and an Irish
father, Evans possesses the fair skin, light hair and Lutheran religion
typical of her ancestry—all traits well removed from the Mexican roots
shared by the majority of her brood. She came from a small family, with
only a single sister. Her father was an eye surgeon, her mother a
She jokes that she is “Mexican by reverse adoption.” She is fluent in
Spanish, having taught foreign languages at a San Diego County community
college for more than 30 years, and has traveled widely in Mexico and
Cuba. She has made a point of weaving both the linguistic and cultural
traditions of Mexico and Cuba into the lives of her children. Each child
has been encouraged to maintain fluency in Spanish, and their home is
filled with the sounds of both English and their native tongue.
With such a large clan, the challenges have been myriad. One daughter is
mentally impaired and struggles to learn the skills that will help her
to be indepen¬dent. Another daughter suffered from a severe case of
torticollis, a twisting of the neck that caused her chin to be tucked in
near her shoulder. Evans massaged the child every day and patiently
waited for improvement. Other children were ill with anemia and
tuberculosis. Others have struggled to find their ways in life; Evans
has taken in a granddaughter whose mother was ensnared in difficulty.
Through it all, Evans persists. “I’m a slow learner,” she jokes.
She has done it all on her own. For a while in years past, she employed
one woman who helped care for the children while she was away at work.
Otherwise, she alone has been breadwinner and caregiver, healer and
counselor, teacher and cook. Her approach is moment by moment.
“There are lots of challenges. When you want to put them all to bed, you
just start with one room and you get those ready, and then go to the
next room. You can panic when you’ve got seven sets of diapers to
change. You can think, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’ But you just
take one at a time; that’s all it takes. Just one at a time. By the time
you get through with seven, the first one needs it again, but that’s
She adds, laughing: “I got them out of diapers as quickly as I could. It
Reactions to what Evans admits is “not the usual household” have been
mixed. Some expressed concern that one woman could not possibly afford
to care for so many children. Others have gone a step further: she has
been investigated on suspicion of child trafficking and running a child
pornography ring. Both the Internal Revenue Service and the Immigration
and Naturalization Service have taken a closer look at her household.
Evans recounts one memorable day when a son put a watch battery in his
ear—“not that he needed more energy,” she laughs. Meanwhile an official
from the state childcare licensing service arrived and asked to see her
license. Evans explained that one does not need a license to care for
one’s own children.
“I have been put through more things than you can imagine, just because
I dare to be different,” she says.
Evans’ choices are motivated in part by her religious faith, which both
inspires and sustains her. She also repeatedly invokes the influence of
her immigrant father, who impressed upon his elder daughter not only a
sharp work ethic, but also a firm belief in the importance of standing
up for one’s beliefs.
Why so many children? “I never really thought about it, to be honest,”
she explains. “It just was a matter of, this was something that came up.
… There was a need.”
Evans says she plans to retire from her teaching career soon, and
perhaps transition to a smaller home. A breast cancer survivor, she is
grateful for these years. She continues to travel, leading a student
group to Spain this spring and battling red tape in order to travel to
Cuba with medicine and supplies. As always, she thrives on a household
teeming with family. And as always, she will take what comes with aplomb
“I like a challenge,” she says. “If they say it can’t be done, that’s
when I tackle it. That’s the story of my life.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, there were 22,728
adoptions by U.S. residents in 2005. Countries with the
highest number of adoptions: China (7,906); Russia (4,639); Guatemala
(3,783); and South Korea (1,630). Countries with fewer than 1,000
adoptions: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, India, Colombia, Bulgaria,
Philippines and Haiti. Mexico, Poland, Thailand and Brazil had fewer
than 100 adoptions.