Behind Every Good Man is a Great Woman
This is the Story of Irene Harsha
“Behind every good man is a great woman” so quotes the bible in not so many words. That couldn’t be more true in the case of Earl Young’s life and career. Not to say that Earl Young wasn’t an absolute creative genius, but without his better half…. I don’t think the “Mushroom Houses” would have been anywhere near as good and quite possibly not even built at all?! Yes…she was that involved.
Irene Harsha was born 1891 in Charlevoix, Mi and attended Charlevoix High School where she met and fell in love with Earl Young. They were married in 1915 and had 4 beautiful and talented children: Drew, Marguerite, Louise and Virginia.
Irene was an art history major and went on to become an instructor so she had quite the creative side herself. Irene was a very supportive and patient spouse because she understood Earl Young’s desire to follow his dreams. He often would take financial risks and put their livelihood in jeopardy yet, she never faltered in her ability to back him and his so called “crazy ideas” throughout his entire career. Even when the townsfolk or other friends and family called Earl crazy for what he was trying to accomplish…she stayed by his side and never swayed with her support and love.
It’s no secret that Earl Young was a terrible artist and could barely draw a straight line which caused a significant problem with the designing of the Mushroom Houses. He loved photography and was quite good, but the drawing side….not so much. We know that Earl Young dropped out of architecture school and thus…had no idea how to do blueprints. So how were the workers supposed to understand what Earl was trying to get across? Keep in mind…Earl was a bit of control freak and very intimidating, even going so far to try to draw his designs in the dirt with a stick and expecting his crew to understand him. To even hint that they didn’t know what he was trying to get across was to put your very job in jeopardy. People needed to work during this time as the Great Depression was reeking havoc on the country and jobs were scarce.
That’s where Irene Harsha came into play. She would be with him during every step of Earl’s design process, listening to his ideas, and often chiming in with her own thoughts. Needless to say…Irene was really the only one Earl would listen to, so she felt fully confident in bringing in her 2 cents.
It is said that behind closed doors…Irene would sketch out the houses she and Earl planned and designed. She would then quickly run them out to the job site BEFORE Earl arrived. This gave the workers a chance to see exactly what Earl was talking about ahead of time. This would also make Earl think that he had explained to the workers himself what was in his head so well, that the workers truly understood him. Who needed blueprints anyways thought Earl?! In other words…a nod to his ego of course. Irene knew Earl well enough to know, if it made things smoother on the job site, it was worth it to her for peace of mind…..what a gal right?!
Earl may or may not have agreed, but it’s a fact that unless the workers could see an actual drawing of what the house was supposed to look like, they wouldn’t have turned out nearly as nice. In essence, if it wasn’t for Irene…the houses would have been difficult at best to build and the relationship between Earl and his crew would have been extremely tense and difficult to manage. Hirings, firings, bad-mouthing and who knows what else on a much higher level I expect?!
Irene went on to become a wonderful map artist and her works can be viewed at the Charlevoix Historical Society to this day. She had her own career and her own accomplishments, so I think she felt no need to stick her name with the Mushroom Houses. It’s imperative to know what a huge part of them she was though, and to respect that.
Irene was so beloved by our town, the Charlevoix Historical Society is now operated out of her childhood home after her family donated it to them years after her death.
We should all be grateful and pay tribute, as I am sure Earl would appreciate the sentiment to his beloved. They were married for 59 beautiful years, were the best of friends, and simply enjoyed each others company. One of their favorite things to do was take the canoe trip through Lake Charlevoix to Round Lake and she would paint….he would row the boat. They did this up to the very end (see picture above.) Earl was a pretty abrasive person so it makes senses that he would marry and love a creative, beautiful and strong woman because let’s be honest….you would have to have quite a backbone to put up with him I am sure….no offense Earl!!
As always…thanks for the support and for more information….take a tour!!