Bill and Jeannette Evans photo

Bill and Jeannette Evans, started farming in 1949 and grew into the state's largest apple grower. The couple was recognized as Apple Growers of the Year by Western Fruit Grower magazine in 2014.  Bill Evans died early Tuesday, Dec. 6 at age 87. (Photo courtesy of David Eddy, Western Fruit Grower)

Bill Evans, who with his wife Jeannette, built a tiny farm into one of the largest fruit companies in Washington state, died early Tuesday. He was 87 years old.

Evans started farming on 10 acres in Naches Heights with his wife in 1949. Over the next almost seven decades the couple created the state’s single largest apple growing operation and built a series of packing facilities.

Nearly all — 8,500 acres — of Evans Fruit’s 9,000 farm acreage was in apples. That’s about 5.7 percent of the state’s 148,000 acres of apple orchards, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About 2,400 acres are apple orchards in the Mattawa region, once considered too hot to grow apples. But that didn’t stop Evans from planting apples there more than three decades ago.

“He recognized the potential,” said daughter Vicki Loges. “He saw the water as a resource. ... He had determined that he could use overhead cooling to keep the apples cool.”

The company also runs a number of fruit packing houses in the Yakima Valley.

“He was extremely proud about recognizing that the warehouse was essential to his success as a farmer,” Loges said.

Evans continued to work at his business right to his death. But despite the high-profile business, Bill Evans generally kept a low profile.

“We’ve always been pretty quiet, we have never tooted our own horn,” Jeannette Evans said.

Still, the couple was recognized over the years for their contributions to the industry, including being named Apple Growers of the Year by American Fruit Grower and Western Fruit Grower magazines in 2014.

It was noted that the couple received more than a dozen nominations for the award, the most received for any apple grower in a single year. Nominations came from key figures across the state apple industry, including West Mathison of Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee and Rod Matson of Matson Fruit in Selah.

“He didn’t talk much, but he didn’t have to,” said David Eddy, editor of Western Fruit Grower, in a statement e-mailed to the Herald-Republic. “Action speak louder than words and Bill Evans showed hard work speaks loudest of all.”

Several family members, including his wife and several children and grandchildren will continue to work in the business.

His advice to “work hard, stay focused, be honest and never give up,” remains with his family, Loges said.

Survivors include wife Jeannette Evans; three children, Loges, Julie Evans and Jon Evans; six grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two sons, Tim Evans and Greg Evans.

• The story was edited to correct the number of children and grandchildren. The story was later edited to correct Julie Evans' name.