The key to a successful business is being customer-friendly, according to John Eveland. The 73-year old Upper Iowa University alumnus recently celebrated his 50-year reunion during Homecoming weekend on the Fayette campus.
Taking the knowledge and experience he already possessed as a young man in 1959, Eveland challenged himself by moving away from home to gain a college education. “I was admitted to Upper Iowa on probation,” said the East Waterloo High School graduate. “The first business class I took was ‘Intro to Business’ taught by Professor (Esther) Liffring. There were 75 people in my class. After the first big test, Professor Liffring announced that two people got perfect scores on the test, me and Earl Jeffrey, a friend of mine. That gave me the confidence I needed (to be successful in college).”
Majoring in business was a perfect fit for young Eveland. Born in Yonkers, New York, his father and mother, John R. and Janie Eveland, moved to Waterloo, Iowa, to join John R.’s father, John D. Eveland in business. Eveland was 4 years old and an only child then. The elder Eveland, a widower, owned and operated a small mattress factory. Eveland and his mother and father lived above the factory. Every day, Eveland’s grandfather, for whom he was named, caught fish in the Cedar River and brought it home to feed his son’s family. “My mother got sick of it,” Eveland fondly remembers.
Soon after, his grandfather moved to Texas. John R. Eveland tried his hand at being a butcher for a local grocery store. Then, in 1947, John D. Eveland died leaving a small inheritance. A year later, John R. purchased National Cigar Store for $10,000, a small specialty tobacco store that had been in operation since 1911.
Morning and night, his father dedicated himself to running the store. As a young boy, Eveland well remembers helping in the store. Then in 1955, his father had to have two-thirds of his stomach removed; and, during his recuperation, young Eveland and his mother ran the store together, which was open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the year.
A year later, Eveland’s father lost the lease on the store’s location and moved to a new building on the same block. In 1963, the store was forced to relocate again, so Janie and Eveland convinced John R. to move to the empty space next door. Soon, National Cigar Store thrived in the new space with added inventory.
His senior year of high school, Eveland got a job as a switchman for the Illinois Central Railroad making $2.83 an hour. His goal was to earn enough to pay for his college education at Upper Iowa University. He continued working for the railroad during the summer and on weekends throughout his college career, in addition to traveling home often to work for his father.
Eveland rented a room in a house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Davis in Fayette for the first three years of college. His senior year he lived in an apartment near downtown with two of his classmates. At the start of that final year at Upper Iowa he was picked to manage the two-lane bowling alley in the Rec Hall.
Eveland fondly remembers the 5,500-mile trek across the United States he made with fellow UIU graduates Dean Christianson, Bob Falck and Lowell Whittle. “We’d flip a coin to see who got to sleep in the bed,” he chuckled. “We’d take the mattress off the box springs so there could be two beds. You wouldn’t do that now!”
Right before graduation, Eveland interviewed with a recruiter from F.W. Woolworth Company. He was offered the job, however, he turned them down. He continued working for the railroad and was promoted to fireman where he could ride in the engine all day making $130 each week. Then, in 1966, just as the railroad was eliminating firemen, John R. asked his son to take over National Cigar. Combining his $10,000 severance pay from the railroad with his savings, Eveland purchased National Cigar Store for inventory at $19,500. Today, he estimates the business to be worth over $2 million.
Over the years, Eveland has implemented several lucrative business practices that had a direct impact on the success of his business. In 1982, he established a second store, Hill Street News and Tobacco on College Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He also owns Otho Convenience & Food in Otho, Iowa, which he acquired from a tax sale, as well as owns 150 rental units, farmland and Quick Cash Loans in Eveland Plaza, Waterloo. For the past 10 years, National Cigar has also boasted a thriving internet business drawing customers from all over the world who purchase their tobacco products and cigars online at www.nationalcigar.com or www.rollyourown.com.
Making money isn’t the only thing that keeps Eveland going, however. He is a long-time supporter and champion for local endeavors in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo community. He joined the Waterloo Jaycees in 1966. He was president of the chapter in 1971 and received an award for Outstanding Local President. The following year he became the National Director and the region received a number one rating. Eveland was presented with the Outstanding Young Man of America, and received a JCI Senatorship, the highest honor given in Jaycees.
In addition, he was retail chairman of United Way in 1974, and Crusade Chairman for the American Cancer Drive in Black Hawk County in 1976. He established the Cancer Buck Boards at the time and the initiative continued in many local bars and restaurants for over 15 years raising over $20,000 each year. Eveland was president of the American Cancer Drive in the county from 1976-77. He was the Black Hawk County chairman of the Heart Walk and raised $103,000, which was a $40,000 increase over the preceding year. He was also on the Planning and Zoning Commission for the city of Waterloo for three years. In 1982, Eveland became a volunteer in the University of Northern Iowa’s Athletic Club, serving as captain, chairman of the drive and president. Currently, Eveland is successfully chairing the “Save the Elks” committee for Waterloo Elks 290 Lodge, which had been in foreclosure. He was Elk of the Year in 1994 and has been a member for 47 years.
The Waterloo Jaycees presented Eveland with a lifetime achievement award in 2011, for having a positive impact on the community. Also, in 2012, he was inducted into the East High School Hall of Fame for his exceptional service to his community since graduating in 1959.
“I probably have too much action for a guy my age,” he said. “But I like having a lot of things going on. I tell anyone – find (a career) you really like. For me, I like being my own boss, and while that’s hard to do these days, I learned from my dad. He worked really hard and stuck to it. You have to work hard and you have to be customer friendly. Those are the keys to being successful.”
Eveland married in 1981 after being a bachelor for the first 41 years of his life, and adjusted quite nicely, according to his wife, Dianne. The couple has a daughter, Tara, 28. Eveland also has two step-children, Teresa and Todd, who he considers his own, and eight grandchildren. He counts his family as one of his greatest blessings. He and Dianne recently started a family fund with the Community Foundation’s Legacy Society of Northeast Iowa, to give back to the community who supported his business all these years. Eveland said he has always tried living his life in service to others and is grateful for the education he received at Upper Iowa, and attributes it, in part, to his successes in life.