Evelyn Chaudoin Palmer, an accomplished social science researcher, a partner in her husband’s academic career and matriarch of a family of educators and activists, died Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, at her home in Walla Walla. She was 93.
Evelyn and her husband, Neil, lived in Texas and the Midwest for most of their married life before moving to Moscow in 1997 to be closer to family. Neil died in 2009, and Evelyn moved to Walla Walla in 2013 to be near her daughter, Susan.
Former Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney described Evelyn as “socially and politically engaged and making a difference” in to her 90s. “The butterfly effect certainly applies to Evelyn’s life,” Chaney wrote. “She inspired many through her ongoing correspondence with old friends and her contributions to progressive political and environmental causes.”
Born Sept. 19, 1926, in Harlingen, Texas, she was the only child of Robert Morris Chaudoin and Willie Ophelia Harrington Chaudoin. She attended public schools in Harlingen and the University of Texas in Austin, where she met her future husband, Neil Meredith Palmer. They were married Dec. 22, 1946, in Harlingen, and were together for 62 years.
Evelyn taught school in Brownsville, Texas, while Neil completed research for his master’s degree in sociology. They moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where Neil earned a Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. Their daughters, Cynthia and Pamela, were born in Iowa.
Neil joined the sociology department at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D., where their daughter, Susan, was born. Although Evelyn was primarily a homemaker and caregiver to their three daughters, she also worked part time as a secretary in the journalism department at USD. In South Dakota, Neil and Evelyn cultivated a lifelong friendship with Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic Party’s 1972 presidential candidate.
When Neil was hired by the University of Toledo in 1967, the family moved to Toledo, Ohio. There, Evelyn worked as an interviewer for the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago. She also commuted to Detroit for a year to work as a secretary for the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.
Evelyn continued her social science research as a field supervisor for the Institute for Social Research (ISR) and Survey Research Center (SRC) at the University of Michigan, covering most of the southern states — familiar territory for her. She hired, trained and supervised interviewers in several major social research studies. Many of her interviewers became longtime friends.
After Neil and Evelyn retired, they lived in Granbury, Texas, for three years before moving to Moscow. They enjoyed traveling to Germany, the former Soviet Union and New Zealand. They also made several cruises to Alaska.
Over the decades, Evelyn generously supported progressive candidates, causes and organizations, including the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute (PCEI) in Moscow, directed by her longtime son-in-law, Tom Lamar. She also supported the Latah Trail Foundation in Moscow, for which her daughter, Pam, was executive director.
After Neil developed Alzheimer’s disease, Evelyn valiantly cared for him at home. She was a board member for Gritman Medical Center’s adult day program in Moscow. After Neil’s death, Evelyn moved to Walla Walla to be near her daughter, Susan, who taught sociology at Walla Walla Community College, and son-in-law Kurt Othberg, who had retired from the Idaho Geological Survey. At WWCC, where her daughter worked, Evelyn was instrumental in establishing and funding the “Neil M. Palmer Outstanding Research Paper Award” to recognize exceptional student research writing, in memory of her late husband.
Evelyn remained mentally sharp, doing daily crossword puzzles, following current events and lamenting the results of the 2016 presidential election. For the last three years, she was lovingly well cared for by the staff of Miranda’s Home Care adult family home, just doors away from Susan’s home.
Evelyn’s parents died previously, as did her husband, Neil, daughters Cynthia and Pamela, and son-in-law Kurt. She is survived by her daughter, Susan Palmer; eight grandchildren, Scott McCormick (Caprice), Seth Palmer Harris (Courtney Esser), Clare Harris Palmer (Kyle Strand), Erin Esteban (Julio), Teva Hopper (Joe), Brya Reagan (Derek), Alina Othberg (Marco Pinheiro) and Miranda Othberg (Brad Falletta); and several great (and great-great) grandchildren.
At Evelyn’s request, there will be no service. The family suggests memorial contributions to Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute, 1040 Rodeo Drive, Moscow, ID 83843, or to a progressive candidate or organization of the donor’s choice.
Mountain-View Colonial DeWitt funeral home in Walla Walla handled cremation arrangements. Condolences may be left at: www.mountainview-colonialdewitt.com/obituaries/obituary-listings.