Wounded Warrior Project Donor Leaves Lasting Imprint on Lives of Others
Charles Evans was a Fashion Maven, Real Estate Mogul, Movie Producer, and Philanthropist
When it came to business, Charles Evans had the golden touch. His foray into the fashion industry made him one of the best-known names in women’s fashion in the 1950s and ’60s. His venture into real estate development helped produce office buildings for some of the biggest companies in the country. Even in the cutthroat world of show business, Charles left in indelible mark, producing the award-winning hit movie, “Tootsie.”
But he may have had his biggest success in helping people. The Charles Evans Foundation, created by Charles before his death in 2007, has contributed millions of dollars in endowments to numerous charities across the globe. Through his generous spirit and the work of his foundation, fire safety measures have been reformed, research for deadly diseases has improved, and the lives of injured veterans served by Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) have been changed for the better.
Charles’ life story is one of triumphs and tragedy; authenticity and loyalty; dedication and devotion. He is proof that no matter what happens in our lives, what we do for others is what matters most.
An American Success Story
Charles’ dad, Archie Shapera, was a successful dentist, and Charles and his siblings grew up on the Upper West Side of New York City. In 1944, Charles joined the U.S. Army and served until 1946. His first job after leaving the service and returning home was selling dresses in the city for his Aunt Molly, who owned a dress factory in New Jersey.
“He had this great personality, a salesman’s personality,” said Linda Rothkopf, Charles’ longtime assistant, devoted friend, and president and CEO of the Charles Evans Foundation.
One day in 1949, Charles approached his father’s tailor, Joe Picone, about an idea he had for a women’s skirt. The skirt would have a zipper, like men’s trousers, as well as pockets with “darts” or extra stitching on the seams that prevent tearing. They borrowed a few thousand dollars in upstart money to buy Aunt Molly’s dress factory and convert it into one of the first assembly-line manufacturing factories in the U.S. The new company, initially named Evans-Picone and later changed to Evan-Picone, began producing the new “menswear-style” skirts to huge acclaim.
“The quality was excellent, and it was affordable,” Linda said of the popular skirt.
In 1962, Charles and Joe sold the business to Revlon for $12 million. The Evan-Picone clothing line is still available today.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Charles began looking for his next passion project. His sister Alice was married to architect Michael Shure, and Charles decided to join his brother-in-law in a real estate venture. The pair developed the Evans Partnership, which quickly became a major real estate investor and developer throughout the country.
Having experienced huge successes in the fashion and real estate markets, Charles decided to try his hand at show business. His brother Robert was a bigwig in the movie-making industry and was once the president of Paramount. Much like his previous business ventures, Charles seemed to have the golden touch. He developed and shopped a screenplay about a man who dresses as a woman to find acting work. The screenplay was picked up by a production company co-owned by director Dick Richards and actor Dustin Hoffman, and Charles became a producer on the film, which would become the 1982 mega-hit Tootsie. The comedy was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture
“[Tootsie] is one of those movies that I would never forget; a classic. I'll also never forget when Dustin Hoffman came to our office,” Linda said. “I had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people through Charles.”
Turning Tragedies into Lasting Tributes
Despite his many successes, Charles’ life wasn’t without personal hardships, which would end up influencing his devotion to helping others.
Charles was staying at a New York City hotel in 1975 when he received a call that changed his life forever. A fire had started in the apartment occupied by his ex-wife and three young children. He rushed to the scene to see a firefighter attempting to resuscitate one of his young daughters. His former wife and both of his daughters, ages 9 and 10, died in the fire, with only his son surviving.
Twenty years after his tragic loss, while visiting a New York City firehouse, Charles was introduced to the firehouse captain, who happened to be the same firefighter Charles saw trying to save his daughter’s life two decades earlier.
"It was just us in this firehouse with [Charles] reuniting with this now-captain – the man who tried to revive his little girl. I could just feel the emotion come over him," said Linda of the meeting. "He became friends with that captain."
On Sept. 11, 2001, that captain died trying to save other lives in the World Trade Center.
“He had a great respect for those who are in service of others,” Linda said. “He did a lot to help people in service, and firefighters especially, because of the tragedy.”
Because of his personal loss and respect for firefighters, Charles founded the Crusade for Fire Detection, Ltd., which addressed the need for smoke detectors in homes. He gifted thousands of smoke detectors and promoted legislation to make smoke detectors mandatory in homes across the U.S.
Charles’ daughters always remained near and dear to his heart. He would travel to visit their gravesites every year on the anniversary of their deaths. Often, he’d go alone, but in the later years, family members would join him.
Linda said he’d often say not a day goes by that he doesn't think about his girls.
Another significant loss contributed to Charles’ dedication to saving and improving lives.
In 1980, Charles’ beloved father, Archie, died of complications from Alzheimer’s. Spurned by watching his father’s battle with devastating disease and wanting to not see others go through similar heartache, Charles became an ardent supporter in the fight against Alzheimer’s. He became national director of the Alzheimer’s Association and was honored for his support and fundraising efforts to help find a cure for the disease.
Leaving a Legacy
Charles had no shortage of successes when it came to business. He was a fashion pioneer, a real estate mogul, and a hotshot movie producer. But he was also a generous man who strongly believed in helping others and making a difference in the world.
In 1988, Charles created the Charles Evans Foundation to further foster his philanthropic efforts and his desire to alleviate suffering and improve the lives of others.
Before his death on June 2, 2007, at the age of 81, Charles selected six trustees to distribute the assets of his estate to charities of their choice. Among the trustees were his sister, Alice Shure, his son, Charles Evans Jr., his widow, Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, and Linda, who would be selected president and CEO of the Charles Evans Foundation. One of the first charities Linda chose in her efforts to honor Charles’ dedication to service was Wounded Warrior Project® .
A photo on the cover of a magazine led Linda to WWP. It was a picture of an injured combat soldier being cared for by his mother. After seeing the heartbreaking image, Linda knew she wanted Charles’ foundation to support the brave men and women returning from war in service of our country.
She began a fact-finding mission on the best way to help them. Linda discussed the issue with her financial manager Matt McCarville, a West Point graduate and retired lieutenant colonel. Matt began researching veterans service organizations, and took a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, home to WWP’s headquarters. Upon his return, he told Linda contributing to the programs and services offered by WWP would be a great way to support wounded veterans and honor Charles’ legacy.
Initially, the endowments given to WWP by the Charles Evans Foundation went toward a scholarship fund to help warriors further their education. When that program ended, the endowments benefitted WWP’s Independence Program, which provides innovative, long-term support for the most catastrophically wounded post-9/11 veterans.
Another endowment supports a special event for warriors at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. Charles Evans Day for Wounded Warrior Project coincides with the annual Soldier Ride® in Miami and the Florida Keys and gives injured warriors the unique opportunity to interact and swim with dolphins. The effect of this experience immediately impacted Linda.
“The first time I was there, the mother of one of the soldiers told me it was the first time she saw her son smile since he got out of Walter Reed [hospital],” Linda said.
This year’s Soldier Ride in South Florida took place Jan. 4-8, and Charles Evans Day at the Dolphin Research Center was held Jan. 8.
“It brings tears to my eyes to see the [warriors] at the Dolphin Research Center,” Linda said. “And I say thanks to Charles that they're able to have this joy in their lives.”
Charles’ numerous endowments have benefitted hundreds of charities over the years and have helped make a life-changing difference for so many people, including the warriors WWP serves.
“I think Charles would be very proud,” Linda said of the foundation’s continued efforts. “So, as long as I'm breathing, I want to be sure that his legacy is recognized."
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
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