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From the playing field to the factory, the Evenson brothers know what it takes to win. The three Linfield College alumni and former football players – Ole, 38, Eric, 35, and Hans, 32 – are now the proud owners and operators of Old Trapper Smoked Meat Products based in Forest Grove.
It was never part of a “master plan” to attend the same college, say the Evensons, who grew up in Forest Grove. In fact, both Ole and Eric attended other colleges before transferring to Linfield. Ole began his education at Portland State and Eric started his college career at the University of Redlands. Both transferred to Linfield and a couple of years later, younger brother Hans followed in his brothers’ footsteps to McMinnville.
All three excelled on the football field for the purple and red.
Ole lettered in football during the 1993-95 seasons. The defensive lineman was named to the all-conference team in 1995.
Eric was a two-year letterman for the ‘Cats in 1995 and ‘96, and earned all-conference honors as an offensive tackle as a senior. He also had the unique opportunity to play college football with both of his brothers, which he said was among the reasons he transferred to Linfield.
“It was a special feeling to be able to run onto the field with my brother,” Eric said. “And to be able to share our successes together.”
Hans played for two years (1996-97) before taking time off from school to help with the family business. In 2000, he returned to Linfield and the playing field, earning all-Conference and All-America honors as a linebacker. To this day, Hans ranks among the leaders in the Linfield record book for tackles and yards from sacks in both season and career statistics.
In the midst of their successes on the field, the brothers also experienced tragedy at home. Their father, Dennis Evenson, unexpectedly passed away from heart failure in September 1998. The 55-year-old had complained about not feeling well before collapsing at the family home. The brothers tried to revive him, but were unsuccessful. Their father literally died in their arms.
“His passing was a real sudden shock,” Ole said. “It was real hard.”
Dennis Evenson left not only his family behind; the father of three also ran his own business. While working for McDonnell Douglas, Dennis took a road trip to Seattle to visit a friend. Along the way, he saw a convenience store for sale and bought it, fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning his own company.
The store had a small smokehouse for making smoked jerky and salmon. Dennis was soon approached by a snack company to produce processed meats on a larger scale. He founded his company, Old Trapper, in 1969 and became one of the first individuals to produce natural-style jerky.
Growing up, the Evenson sons helped their father run the family business, but it was considered an open invitation rather than a requirement.
“It was never expected or demanded of us,” Eric said.
But when their father passed away, the men said it was an easy decision to take over the family business. They took their father’s place alongside their mother and started a new era of ownership.
Today, each brother plays a vital role in the company. Ole is responsible for the meat operations, Eric handles the finances and Hans is the primary salesman.
“It’s one of the cool things that parallel football,” Hans said of their diverse responsibilities. “We played different positions (in football) and now we have different roles.”
That is not the only thing the brothers took away from their Linfield experience. Another lesson they learned during their football days was the importance of preparation.
The coaches “worked extremely hard at preparation,” Hans said. “That’s how you win.”
“We were more prepared to go up against bigger and better players,” Ole said of their training. “The preparation we had made it easy to be successful.”
For Eric, the “culture of expecting to win” he experienced at Linfield carried over to his current business practices.
“If you expect to do well, you’re a large way there,” he said.
But these days, preparation looks a bit different for the Evensons. Instead of training and strategizing on the playing field, the family focuses on preparing quality meat products for their customers.
It starts with the meat
Old Trapper primarily imports its fresh meat from New Zealand and Australia, but occasionally purchases within the U.S. and Canada. The key is to find lean, grass-fed beef on a consistent basis.
The Evensons also only use the better meat cuts, such as top rounds, for their smoked goods.
The fresh meat is processed and then smoked in a variety of flavors. After that, it is packaged and sold almost exclusively to convenience stores. The brothers say that 90 percent of their business is with convenience stores across the country.
The brothers said their smoked meat is superior to the competition because of its freshness, smoky flavor and tenderness.
“The product has to perform,” Hans said.
And perform it has. Since taking over the company, the Evenson brothers have seen the family business expand ten-fold. Just this year, they have seen an increase of 16 percent.
“From day one, we’ve been expanding,” Ole said.
This tremendous success has allowed them to add on to their factory in Forest Grove, which currently employs 60 men and women. This is something the brothers have wanted to do for several years, but the current economy made it difficult to secure the necessary funding.
“It was a real long process,” Eric said.
The new addition nearly doubles the size of their current facility, allowing Old Trapper to produce double the product. Construction started in late August and is expected to wrap up during the first quarter of 2011.
In addition to producing a quality product, a major part of the Evenson brothers’ success is undoubtedly due to their strong family bond.
The brothers all have families and children of their own, and try to spend all holidays and birthdays together.
“We all consider each other our best friends,” Hans said.
On the business end, the Evensons work together harmoniously.
Eric channeled a scene from “The Godfather” to describe how the family gets along when he said, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” However, he also said the brothers do enjoy a great working relationship.
“The common thing that ties us together is that we have the same goal: to not let each other down,” Ole said.
“I wouldn’t want anyone else in their positions,” Hans said. “The trust is 100 percent.”
As long as the Evensons continue to trust one another, it’s safe to assume they will continue to find success.
-- Katherine Brackmann
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128