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The Evans family had the perfect place for their son to live: home

  • George Evans rides Candyman. Marcia Evans

  • Marcia Evans stands with her brother George’s favorite tiny horse, Tis Gabriel Sir Prize, at her farm in Hopkinton on Tuesday. “(George) was a joy to have and a big help around the house and in the barns where he loved being with the horses.” GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Marcia Evans stands with her brother George's favorite tiny horse 'Tis Gabriel Sir Prize' at her farm in Hopkinton on Tuesday, January 7, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/11/2020 7:14:23 PM

In 1956, George and Eleanor Evans sought a second opinion.

Their own.

They had been told their newborn baby, also named George, needed to be institutionalized. He had Down syndrome, and, back then, that meant a life without laughter, learning or love, a life that should be locked away, the key never within reach.

This time, though, Eleanor and the elder George ignored the status quo of the day, believing their son could thrive on the family farm in Hopkinton. The three are gone now, George having died last month from Alzheimer’s disease at age 63.

But the surviving daughter, Marcia Evans, remains on the farm, training horses, giving riding lessons to Special Olympians and keeping the wisdom of her parents and the spirit of her brother alive.

George wasn’t supposed to walk well, but he did. In fact, he rode horses. He competed in show events. His intellectual capacity went well beyond that of the predicted 2½-year-old level.

That other stuff? About dying young, about hopelessness, about never finding a niche – your niche – within a family and society?

“Everyone should have a place in this world,” Marcia said in her kitchen last week, 100 yards from her stables and 14 horses. “And it still hasn’t come to that. A lot of this has been from the fact that if you had something wrong with you, you were supposed to be put away.”

Marcia’s pride in overcoming obstacles and opening doors was clear in the obituary she sent us, which pointed out near the top that her parents “never regretted their decision to keep George with them at home,” and “He was a joy to have and a big help around the house and in the barns where he loved being with the horses.”

Marcia was 8 when her brother was born. She remembers vividly the reaction and looks aimed at her family from friends and strangers, the utter disbelief that someone had chosen to personally enrich the life of a child with Down syndrome.

She also recalled that her mother had gone to check out the Laconia State School, which would have been George’s home. “She took one look and said, ‘My son’s never going to go there.’ ” Marcia said.

At the time, the family farm featured 5,000 chickens and some cows. And it wasn’t long before the family’s love for horses led to a new business, The Dawn-Mar Ranch riding academy, 50 years ago.

At 72, Marcia still runs the farm. Those horses she cares for, the equestrian community thought, had no value, no chance to live long, no hope, so Marcia opened her barn door, and some have lived years since riding into Hopkinton.

She runs the place with her close friend, Diane Parker of Concord. Marcia spotted Parker talking to one of her horses one day eight years ago, and the two have been close friends and associates ever since. Parker prides herself on connecting with animals, reading their thoughts, soothing their anxiety.

“I can look at a horse and tell you what’s wrong with it,” Parker told me. “I can look at it and I can talk to the horse. And like I said, they answer back and I know what their emotions are.”

They use riding and close-up contact with rescue horses to create confidence and calm in people of all ages who are physically and emotionally challenged.

The two women dislike preconceptions. That’s why the farm and all it had to offer was so vital to George’s development. George blended nicely with those horses.

“This has changed people’s lives,” Marcia said. “The horses don’t judge people like we do. People, you know, are cruel to other people, I mean a lot, especially with a disability. If you have a disability, they look on you as, ‘You’re one of them.’ ”

This non-judgemental playground and learning center, with its lessons on riding and on life, has long served as the headquarters for this plot. Marcia was born at the farm and attended Hopkinton High School. She took over the business and she became the primary caregiver for her brother.

She never married, and the sense that she had been consumed with her responsibilities, to the point of sacrificing other areas of her life, seemed possible.

“My whole family needed me,” she said.

Her parents died within a year of each other in the mid 2000s, but the farm lived on. Marcia is allied closely with the 4H Club and Special Olympics, which have promoted riding and established competitions. George loved competing at the Special Olympics.

“He had Special Olympics all his life,” Marcia said. “He just couldn’t wait. He knew when the Olympics were coming. He knew he had to get his backpack, he knew he had to roll it out.”

He also knew he had chores, things to do as part of a family, things the medical community never thought George would ever do. He helped care for his parents once each had to be confined to a wheelchair.

He also got the mail, emptied the dishwasher, shoveled snow, brought the horses back inside at the end of the day, shoveled horse manure.

The Alzheimer’s, after living a rich life with Down syndrome, is what got him. George was diagnosed in 2015. Hospice care was suggested. Marcia was told he’d go quickly. There was no plan to move forward, adapt to the disease, keep living.

“So that was like a theme throughout his life,” Marcia said, “and people wondering why I’ve been putting so much energy into this.”

She wanted her brother to die at home, and he did – four years later. Memory loss at times, sure, but George’s life remained rich with riding and teaching and working with kids with autism and Down syndrome.

He loved turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, and in fact loved it every other day of the year as well. Marcia said George was eating the night before he died.

We went outside to the barn, saw the horses, including a few adorable miniature horses, all friendly, all curious to meet a new stranger, all requiring a lot of care.

Marcia never faced that part alone.

“I can’t thank George enough,” she said, “for being around to help me.”

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