78-year-old business promoter: ‘the heart of Evanston’

“Re-invent yourself.”

When a friend uttered this advice to Ira Golan, 78, after his wife’s death a few years ago, she didn’t realize Golan’s life was already an example of re-invention.

“I had a major illness when I was 35 and I made three decisions at that time,” Golan said. “One was to leave the business world, two was to become a grandparent and the third one was to get rid of any obligations list. I told my wife I would do all of this before I was 50.”

On Jan. 13, 1971, Golan turned 49. A month and a half later he had accomplished each of his three goals.

But Golan’s re-inventions was not limited to his personal life — his involvement with Evanston evolved, too.

Golan is currently the marketing facilitator for Evmark, the downtown promotion group he created during his 10 years as executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. Among other pursuits, he has served in the military, run a candy company and directed a youth volunteer program.

His latest venture is Evansfest, a downtown festival scheduled for this July. He said the plan reflects his philosophy of carrying a project from “concept to completion.”

“When it was formally announced that the World’s Largest Garage Sale was canceled this year, I had already made tentative plans to replace it,” Golan said. “Evansfest is my design to incorporate a really good sidewalk sale with entertainment, demonstrations by community organizations and special food offerings by the many restaurants in downtown Evanston.”

Golan, a former staff sergeant of the U.S. Infantry during World War II, began his voluntary commitment to Evanston after he left his position in January 1971 as president and CEO of Flavour Candy Co., located in Chicago.

“When I left the candy business, I had already been involved in a youth program,” Golan said. “I wanted to take a year to see what I really wanted to do, so I told the group I wanted to run it.”

The program, Evanston Community Committee, was a volunteer organization that matched troubled youth in elementary schools with adult mentors in the community. In his one year as the director of the program, Golan performed a re-invention of sorts — the number of families involved increased to 98 from 15.

After devoting the last 29 years to the Evanston community, Golan is still working to leave a lasting impression on the city, he said.

“He is the heart of Evanston,” said Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton. “He has done so much to bring attention to the city and help it grow.”

Golan has served as the executive director of the Evanston United Way and executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, and has held positions on a number of boards for various Evanston organizations.

“Ira has made a life-long dedication to Evanston,” said Katie Maas Baali, current president of the Chamber. “Everything he has ever done in this community has been with exceeding enthusiasm and success.”

Despite his commitment to Evanston, Golan has never been an Evanston resident. He has lived in Chicago and Skokie and presently resides in Highland Park.

Golan says there are many reasons Evanston is so special to him.

“My involvement has been because I like the city and I’m just very fond of it,” Golan said. “It has a beautiful lakefront, a university and a great diversity of people. Everyone thinks it’s just a great town because of its interests and its excitement.”

As long as he lives, Golan said he will do all he can to give something to somebody — especially when it concerns his family. Golan said he feels his greatest commitment has been to his family and his late wife Helen Golan, who died from a stroke a few years ago.

“My wife used to say that we will know what kind of parents we have been when we see what kind of parents our children are,” Golan said. “We believe that by this measure we have been successful parents.”

Beginning with their relationship in high school and continuing throughout their marriage, which began in 1943, Helen Golan was her husband’s inspiration.

A poem Golan’s son wrote after Helen Golan’s death, “The Quiet Foundation,” described her vital role to the family’s existence.

The poem reads: “She’s always there when needed, as Grandma, Mom, or wife/ Demanding almost nothing, while bettering your life/ The glory and the headlines, that’s for the rest of us/ but she’s the quiet foundation, and she’s the best of us.”

Many Evanston residents would agree that Golan’s reinventions have made him a foundation — one that Evanstonians will look back on for years to come.