Longtime Clay County resident Earl Hurshman, 81, didn’t know what to do with himself after his wife of 50 years, Bernadette, died in October 2011. Every day, weather permitting, he takes a rose to her grave and sits and talks to her.
“It doesn’t matter if she hears me or not because it helps me,” he said.
Then, on her birthday in August 2012, he said he was talking to her about being tired of watching TV and eating by himself and asked, “Honey, what am I going to do with myself?”
He said it hit him like a bolt of lightning. “I could hear her say it: ‘Get off your dead (behind) and do something.’”
A lifetime wood craftsman, he went straight to a craft store and bought a kit to build a doll house.
“My inspiration was to build doll houses for grandparents living on a fixed income who wanted to give something special to their grandkids,” he said.
Grandpa for Grandparents was born but quickly moved into Grandpa for Disadvantaged Families after he started getting requests from single parents and others. Hurshman builds the houses and keeps them in his basement shop for children to choose the one they want. They also can choose from a selection of furniture for the selected house.
Last Christmas, he said he had received the most requests he’d ever had. Other than a sign on a community bulletin board last year, his only publicity is by word of mouth. Occasionally, he donates a doll house for a raffle to support the Good Samaritan Center in Excelsior Springs, which is what brought him to the Kearney Senior Center in June for the Kearney Senior Fair. He also had his first doll house show at the Good Samaritan Center during Waterfest in late June in Excelsior Springs.
In addition to doll houses, he builds barns and fire stations, and he has built one chapel, complete with lights and music.
Besides keeping him busy several hours a day, he said the best part of building the houses is seeing the children’s faces when they step into his shop.
“What pleases me the most is seeing the kids’ eyes get wide and they say, ‘wow,’” Hurshman said. “I like to meet the families.”
His process is casual, he said. A parent or grandparent contacts him and comes to his shop to meet him, and the children pick out a doll house and give him a picture to add to a bulletin board in his shop. He smiles as he reflects on those faces full of joy looking back at him.
Bernadette would be pleased.
Kearney Editor Stacey Hamby can be reached at 628-6010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.