It wasn’t just that her laugh was distinctive, or that it was so contagious. That high-spirited, full-bodied exuberant laugh was part and parcel of the amazingly upbeat bundle of positive energy that WAS Larry Ann Evans — an energy as contagious as her laughter.

The history community in Wayne County is still reeling from her death on Dec. 18, 2020. Evans was the executive director of the Museum of Wayne County History and served as co-chair of the Wayne County Bicentennial Steering Committee before losing a nearly two-year battle with cancer.

“A wonderful writer and effervescent actress, Larry Ann came packed with innumerable talents … She was an exceptionally wonderful person who’ll be forever missed by both the history and theater communities in the Finger Lakes region,” said Huron Historian Rosa Fox, who has stepped in as the Wayne County Bicentennial co-chair.

Evans’ theatrical background and her connection to Lyons — and the old Wayne County Jail/sheriff’s residence in particular — made her a natural fit as executive director of the museum, run by the Wayne County Historical Society.

Her great-grandfather Jeremiah Collins was in and out of the office and residence for more than 50 years as deputy, undersheriff or sheriff; a tenure never equaled — though Evans’ friend Steve Sklenar has come close.

Chief Deputy Sklenar has been the sheriff historian for several of his 47 years with the department. He and Evans bonded over their shared loves of history and dry wines, and Evans coaxed him into participating in more than a few museum fundraisers.

“She was not afraid to put the arm on you to use your special talent or knowledge of a portion of the local history so that others could appreciate it!” Sklenar confirmed.

For several years Sklenar brought 1950s-era Sheriff Earl Keckison to life in “A Night in the Slammer, a Day in the Clink,” a progressive play written by Evans and Anne Salerno which took patrons from top to bottom of the old house, with scenes from different eras of the occupants’ history. Each year one or two scenes were exchanged for new, but the finale was always the hanging of William Fee, the only man ever legally executed in Wayne County. Fee was usually played by Evans’ son Alex.

“She brought people into the museum by making it less of a dusty old museum and more about appreciating the relevant history. She added an artistic flair and engaged the younger population,” Sklenar observed. “She was able to reach out and connect with her other resources to improve the museum and to engage the whole community in understanding where we came from and why we are where we are now.”

Evans “put the arm on” several prominent community members every year in another popular fundraiser, the “Lock ‘Em Up and Jail ‘Em” event. Sklenar was a detainee, as was Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts and Lyons National Bank President Bob Schick, who with the other “prisoners” had to make phone calls to friends and family to try to raise enough “bail money.”

“The Lock ‘em up and Jail ‘em fundraiser was a lot of fun,” Salerno remembers. “Always wine and cheese and fancy little hors d’oeuvres. She always thought of the little pleasantries to make it even more fun. She really knew how to throw a party!”

The Roaring Twenties Speakeasy galas were another great fundraiser where Evans’ event-planning shone. Party goers always enjoyed the cabaret, the gambling den, prizes for best costumes and, of course, the bootleg wine and cheese.

Wayne County Historical Society board member Caryn Devlin admired how multifaceted Evans was.

“Nothing was beyond her reach of creativity. Her enthusiasm, graciousness and infectious laugh made each directors meeting enjoyable. Her legacy of projects involving a wide range of media will thankfully be with us for a very long time.”

Evans had an unsurpassed ability to enjoy people and life in the moment, and engage those around her to do the same.

New Wayne County Historical Society board member Diana Mourey DeFisher agrees.

“No matter who or when, Larry Ann made whoever she was with feel loved. She could encourage and challenge one to achieve better and more. I will always try and challenge myself with something new and unexpected in her honor, and listen for her encouragement in my heart,” DeFisher said.

“She has left a lasting legacy with her many gifts of history writing, plays and contributions to youth theater and the local history community,” Fox added. “As the Bicentennial Planning Committee moves forward, we keep Larry Ann always in our hearts and souls, remembering the history she so dearly loved.”

Actress, director, radio announcer, artist, designer, PR expert, historian, writer ... Evans was a multi-talented individual simply impossible to pigeonhole. She could do it all and do it well.

On a personal note ... I’m here now because Larry Ann believed in me. And every day that I spend in the Museum of Wayne County History, I will be listening for — and truly hope to hear! — that amazing, outrageously funny “Larry Ann laugh” that will let me know she’s joined the other members of the Collins family whose ghosts she believed still populate 21 Butternut St.

If I ever do, I’ll be sure to let you all know!

Stevenson is manager of the Museum of Wayne County History.

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