Irma Harris – A Manhasset Treasure

Irma Harris with her aide and long-time friend Hilda. (Contributed photo)

On Aug. 1 my grandmother, an incredible woman named Irma Harris and resident of Flower Hill, celebrated her 92nd birthday.

Turning back time, on March 12, 1950 Irma Galansky of Chevy Chase, a suburb of St. Louis, married a man named Harvey Harris. She would only do it if he secured them tickets to South Pacific, the most popular musical of the time. Three years later Harvey’s company transferred him to the New York City office. In anticipation having a family, they bought a house in the then small town of Manhasset. Little did she know she would be a resident of Manhasset for at least the next 67 years.

Irma and Harvey quickly fell in love with their new town. When explaining why she moved here, she says “Well, the schools were excellent, and it was a short commute to the city, so it was very popular.” Irma became an active participant in community life. She taught English at the Manhasset Community Day Center, a daytime center for teenagers in rehabilitation and one of the first of its kind. She also was a substitute teacher at Manhasset High School, which both her daughters would graduate from. Later, she worked in real estate at Douglas-Elliman, then Douglas-Riper.

As a child, visits to Gramma Irma’s were the weekend highlights for years. She made sure I never missed a SCA fair or a Memorial Day parade. Friday night dinner was frequently at Publicans (then in its first incarnation). When she had to go to work at the real estate office on Plandome Road, I would sit next to her and kick my legs. Our New Year’s Day tradition was a trip to Barnes & Noble on Northern Boulevard, because it was never closed. And of course, I have been to innumerable family parties at The Jolly Fisherman in Roslyn.

Irma in 1958 with her two daughters, Susan and Linda

At 92, Irma’s memory is as sharp as it ever was. Her memory is a treasury of American history. At age 5 she took a train trip with her family during the Depression, and she played house in the empty cars with her sister. At age 13, her junior high school was called to assembly where her principal announced the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The following day he resigned to join the army. Her sister and author Bernice Kert used to say that she never bothered to use the library, if she needed to know something she simply called Irma.

The house Irma and Harvey bought is still there, and Irma still lives in it. Irma’s great success and her ability to live at home is in large part to her live-in aide and now close friend, Hilda. When I stop by to visit, I often find the two of them laughing together over some inside joke, watching Jeopardy, or singing old 40s songs together. She refers to Irma as “The Queen”, but we all refer to Hilda by her appropriate title, “The Boss”. Words cannot express how grateful our family is to Hilda.

Since the pandemic started, I have worked to find ways to help her pass the time from the safety of her home. She enjoyed Netflix’s “The Crown”, commenting on such scenes such as (then) Princess Elizabeth’s wedding “Oh, I remember when all this happened!” She has been re-watching old musicals, including of course South Pacific, which she notes was nowhere near as good as the Broadway show. Her latest project is to chronicle our family’s history, and there is no one better suited to the task.

While I have no way of independently confirming this, at 67 years and counting I suspect Irma is the longest continuous resident of this wonderful town. And even after all this time Irma still loves Manhasset. When I ask her why, she says “Well who wouldn’t! It’s really just a wonderful town.” Happy birthday Gramma Irma, you truly are a treasure.

-Submitted by Deirdre Lewis


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