In the last half century, there has been a remarkable amount of change in McKinney. McKinney has gone from a tiny town with segregated schools and dirt roads to becoming a growing city that's rated as Money magazine's second-best small U.S. city in which to live.
In the last 50 years, the population has grown tenfold and some projections show McKinney’s population doubling in the near future. The Evans family has seen that growth firsthand. And if it were up to Ralph and Connie Evans, their family would be here forever.
“When you reach the best place, why leave?” - Ralph Evans
In many ways, Connie and Ralph are the All-American couple. In high school, Connie was voted most beautiful and Ralph was voted most popular. He was an all-sport athlete who played football, baseball and ran track. She was trying out to be a cheerleader when they first met in Ralph’s parents’ home 36 years ago. He was 19 and she was 14.
“He saw me and that was it,” Connie says.
Because of their age difference, they had to wait to date each other, and wait they did. About as soon as they could get married, they did. They’re now approaching their 30th wedding anniversary.
Ralph and Connie have seen McKinney grow and change immensely over their lifetime. Ralph, 56, remembers what McKinney was like when he was a kid. “I think it was a typical southern town. It was divided racially by Highway Five and the railroad track,” he says. “It had the typical southern feel but it didn’t have the tension that most southern towns had. It was still a friendly town, with a down home feel. It was a nice place to live.”
Ralph was very young when the McKinney schools began to integrate, but he remembers it well. Ralph and the rest of his sixth-grade class was the last class to attend Doty, the all-black school in McKinney. “I finished Doty in the sixth grade and at that point, it was mandatory integration,” Ralph says.
In fact, Ralph’s family was on the frontline of the integration process in McKinney. You might be familiar with the name Leonard Evans … as in Leonard Evans Jr. Middle School. The school is named after Ralph’s father, Leonard Evans, who was the first African-American teacher at an all-white school in McKinney. Leonard spent 34 years teaching in McKinney’s schools. You do what Leonard did and they name buildings after you.
Ralph remembers his father’s first day at the white school very well. “I remember taking him with my mom and dropping him off at school. The first day, it was like going through a gauntlet. They must have had the parents (lined up outside) … I guess it was big news,” Ralph says. “So when he walked up, he walked through the crowd. My brother and I were in the car. It was pretty scary for us at the time.”
Ralph now drives past the school named for his father every day on his drive to work, but Ralph doesn’t tread on his father’s name. “I’m proud of it. I’m proud of him. I am who I am. The way I’m treated shouldn’t be because my dad has a school named after him,” Ralph says. “You know, when people find that out, they’re honored about that. And it’s pretty cool.”
Despite being afraid for his father on that first day, Ralph describes the integration of McKinney as smoother than in many other Southern towns. “When everything was going through the integration process in the 60’s, we didn’t have too much violence (in McKinney). There was a little bit but not too much,” he says.
For Ralph himself, the integration process was relatively easy. Ralph’s childhood was probably a little different than most. When you grow up as the coach’s son you play every sport and you know everyone. “For me, it was a smooth transition, because my dad was coaching there so it made a big difference. I knew a lot of the kids already,” Ralph says.
Despite the schools having been integrated, some of the old ways continued for a time. Ralph tells a story of his youth. “We had to walk home from junior high school and we had to walk past the courthouse. At that time, they still had colored restrooms and colored water fountains. I’m not that old, but to see that as a seventh-grade boy ...
“I’m pretty adventurous, so I always wanted to go to the white-only restroom. So one day we decided, let’s just go. And it was probably just as nasty as the colored restroom. But I wondered about the division. We all went to school together so what’s the big deal?”
Connie, 50, was a few years behind Ralph in school and describes her time in school as different than it was for Ralph. “I didn’t have it like Ralph did when he was growing up, because when I went to school we were already integrated,” Connie says. “It was a mixture already and it was fine for me growing up. I didn’t see any ‘she’s white, she’s black’…everybody was my friend.”
The bisection of McKinney by Highway 5 used to divide it along racial lines. That line of racial separation has given way to another separation that you’re probably familiar with. These days you’re likely to hear someone describe the area they live in as either Westside or Eastside, referring to the sides of Highway 5.
Asked how he feels about that distinction, Ralph says, “I still think there’s a little bit of division. Not racially but Eastside, Westside. People make a big distinction. ‘Where do you live? Oh, I live on the Westside.’ So what does that mean? There’s a subtle arrogance to it. I don’t know if it’s a racial thing or just a divisional thing. It’s pretty subtle, but it’s still there.”
While Ralph and Connie Evans’ home is on the Westside in Craig Ranch, their heart is still on the Eastside. “Our residence is here (on the Westside), but we live on the East side of McKinney. Our church, our parents, the parks we hang around in…they’re all in the East side of McKinney,” Ralph says.
The Evans family spends every single night on the Eastside. Ralph, Connie, their daughters 29-year-old Brittany and 25-year-old Kiana, their three grandchildren and a dozen or more members of the extended Evans family (including Connie’s mother, who’s lived with Ralph and Connie since Connie’s father passed away in 1993) return to the Eastside every night.
They all meet at Leonard and Julia’s house every single night for dinner. Ralph’s mother Julia, who Ralph describes as the “foundation of our family,” cooks dinner for everyone, every night. “The whole family is congregating,” Ralph says.
The Evans family dinner isn’t just limited to actual family members, whether by blood or marriage. They welcome many others to the dinner table as well. “The kids over where Ralph’s parents live, it’s more…as many other kids as it is our own grandkids coming over to eat every night. So it’s like, we feed the whole community,” Connie says. “It’s truly a blessing that the kids feel like they have a place to go. A place they can come to and feel loved.”
To Ralph and Connie, the Eastside is still their home but the area itself hasn’t always been in great condition. “When we were growing up, all the streets in that area were not paved. So when it rained, there was mud everywhere,” Ralph says. Even as recently as 2003, parts of the eastside didn’t even paved roads according to Ralph.
Ralph tells the story of one of the reasons they moved away from the Eastside in 2003. “We lived on Canal Street, which was unpaved. It was a real short street. I think there was four blocks. They (the city) had this Eastside initiative for new streets. They paved the North end of it…just two blocks. They had all the machinery down here to pave two blocks. Our end, they said it was in phase two. So like a year later, they would have come back to do it.
“I think (current mayor) Brian Loughmiller was on the city council at the time. I’m a bailiff at the courthouse and he’s an attorney. So I said to him, ‘Brian come here for just a minute.’ We were not busy in court that day. We got in my truck. And I said, let me show you something. We went down, took a ride. He looked at it. I said, ‘Brian, to you, does it make sense that they’re paving just this part and you have all the machines down here and you can’t finish two blocks?’ He was amazed.”
But Ralph doesn’t blame the city council. “They said it was an engineering issue or some kind of excuse or reason. But Brian was unaware of it. So I don’t think it’s the city council’s fault. It’s just that, that’s the way it was done.”
Ralph and Connie left the Eastside for Stonebridge in 2003. On the whole, they enjoyed their experience in Stonebridge but were subjected to some discrimination. “It wasn’t friendly. It was like, what are you doing out here?” Connie says.
Ralph shares a story of his experience in Stonebridge from their time there. Shortly after they’d moved into Stonebridge, Ralph came home one night to find his driveway blocked by his mother-in-law’s car. As a bailiff in the Collin County courthouse, Ralph is often in uniform, but he wasn’t on this evening.
He parked across the street and got out of his car to head into the house. Ralph noticed that a McKinney police officer had pulled up behind his car and gotten out of his police car as Ralph had gotten out of his car.
The officer walked towards Ralph and firmly asked him, “What are you doing here?”
“Uh, I live here,” Ralph responded.
The officer asked to see Ralph’s driver’s license. Ralph showed it to him. The officer checked the license, glancing at the house and back at the license. The address obviously matched the house they were standing in front of and the officer handed Ralph back his license. Ralph opened his wallet back up to put his license back.
“And when I open up my wallet, he sees my badge and the tone of the conversation changes. ‘Oh hey how are you doing? Who do you work for? What do you do?’ I was like, OK…whatever,” Ralph says.
Connie has also had her own uneasy moments in McKinney. “I still feel like there is some segregation in McKinney because ... a lot of people don’t know if I’m black, if I’m white, if I’m Hispanic…so I feel everything,” she says.
Ralph and Connie have felt much more comfortable in Craig Ranch. “I think Craig Ranch is a great place to live. I think everyone is relatively friendly here," Ralph says. "I don’t know if it’s because all the houses are closer together to create that neighborhood feel…but we’re forced to be closer (with our neighbors).”
Despite their positive feelings about their neighbors in Craig Ranch, much of Ralph and Connie’s focus on is on the Eastside. Ralph and Connie recognize the effort that has gone into improving the Eastside over the last few years, but they know there’s more work to be done.
“It’s really unfair because that area has been neglected for 80 years, 100 years and now all of the sudden you want it to be Stonebridge, Eldorado, and Craig Ranch. That ain’t gonna happen like that,” Ralph says.
But Ralph does acknowledge the city council’s efforts to improve the Eastside “I think the current city government has a passion for the East side of McKinney. I don’t think they can correct 100 years of neglect in a four-year term, but I think they do have an ear for the East side of McKinney and I think they have a passion for it too,” he says.
One place they feel needs improvement is St. James Church, where Ralph serves as a trustee and Connie is very involved as well. The church was built in 1956 using what Ralph calls “hand-me-down and gift-in-kind lumber,” which was old at the time. Ralph says they hope to build a new building but the tough economic times are preventing the plans from moving forward.
“We’re prayerful that it can happen. I’m a person of faith but any help we can get, we’ll take,” Ralph says.
Asked what’s special about St. James Church, Ralph speaks from his heart. “It’s home for me for one. It’s a place on the corner of Watt and Highway 5. Watt means electricity and Jesus is the light of the world. It’s where I think my soul salvation will be worked out. It’s special to me,” he says.
Despite the issues they’ve had over their time in McKinney, neither Ralph nor Connie would ever want to live anywhere else. Asked if they’d do it all over again and choose McKinney as their home, Ralph answers “without a doubt” and Connie nods her head and matter-of-factly answers “yeah.”
It’s not just their families and their history that keeps them here. Ralph lists the weather, the land, the schools, and McKinney’s proximity to Dallas (“I don’t have to live there and I can leave if want,” he says in reference to Dallas) as reasons why he loves McKinney.
Connie thinks McKinney should be even higher in Money’s ranking of the best places to live in the United States. “I wouldn’t change it for anything. My family is here and it’s a great town to live in. It should be number one,” she says.
Ralph and Connie seem to have it all figured out. They know where they want to be and it’s right where they’ve been their whole lives. Their life is here. Their family is here. Their family’s legacy is here and they don’t plan on going anywhere else. They've seen the incredible amount of changes that have taken place in McKinney over the last 50 years and they're proud to call it their home.
They spend every night surrounded by four generations of their family raised right here in McKinney and they wouldn’t trade their home for any place in the world. Ralph, for one, is absolutely sure of his life choices. He found the right person to spend his life with and the right place to call home. Asked about his wife and his city, he simply says, “It’s like coming to McKinney. When you find the right one, you just hang on. And this is the right city. So why leave?”
Editor's Note: TownSquareBuzz.com is pleased to introduce MY McKinney, a yearlong project where we’ll show you what it really means to live in McKinney. We'll introduce you to 10 families living right here in McKinney. You’ll learn about their lives, their history, and what living in McKinney means to them.
`MY MCKINNEY' STORY ARCHIVES