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Human Interest

Retiree Earl Hurshman Makes Dollhouses for Disadvantaged Kids

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Ethan Hill

Earl Hurshman was used to his wife Bernadette telling him what to do.

After almost 50 years of marriage, “we never had an argument,” he says. “Now we had disagreements but we never ever yelled at each other. Never. We were raised with the same ideals and morals. We had more fun.”

So when Bernadette died in Oct. 2011, Hurshman, 81, of Excelsior Springs, Mo., began visiting her grave almost daily to continue their conversations.

“I go every day that I can,” he says. “She loved red roses so I take her one; a dozen on her birthday and our anniversary. There’s a little flower shop on the corner and if I don’t show up, they’ll call to make sure I’m all right.”

Last year on his wife’s birthday, Hurshman was searching for direction. Having grown tired of watching television and taking walks around his neighborhood, he asked Bernadette what he should do with his life.

“I could just hear her, and excuse my language, but she said, ‘ Get off your a– and do something!’ ” he says.

That “guidance” led Hurshman, a retired steel fabricator, to embrace his lifelong passion for woodworking and start building dollhouses in his basement for disadvantaged grandparents and parents to give to their children as presents. He uses almost all of his monthly Social Security check to purchase dollhouse kits, paints, materials and miniature furniture at his local hobby store.

“I live modestly, he says. “I don’t need anything, I don’t want anything.”

Earl Hurshman’s dollhouses
Ethank Hill
Hurshman, a grandfather of 10, gave away almost a dozen dollhouses last year (fire stations and barns for boys “so they don t feel left out,” he says) and planned to place even more in good homes this holiday season as well. He finds the families through word of mouth and by putting up flyers around town.

“I meet with them first and find out a little bit about their situation,” says Hursman, who has a photo of each recipient on his bulletin board in his workshop. “Money can’t buy that hug around my neck.”

When Craig Beasley lost his job as a seat-assembler in April 2012, Hurshman’s gift of a dollhouse to his daughters Emilie, 9, and Gracie, 6, meant the world to the family.

“They just don’t make people like Earl. He is a real angel on earth,” says their mom, Maria. “Earl makes me want to be a better person. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to repay him, but I’ll pay it forward.”

That might be just what Bernadette had in mind.

“That woman, she was something else. She is something else,” Hurshman says softly. “I miss her every day. I don’t mourn her any more but I’ll never let her go.

More Heroes Among Us:

Girl with Cancer Starts Charity to Bring Joy to Sick Kids

Couple Adopts Five Kids with Cerebral Palsy

Know a hero? Send suggestions to For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine