On January 25, 1924, Irene Georgette Steinhardt was born in Brooklyn, New York. It was the start of her amazing life. Her dad was branching into the new business of auto insurance (as well as driving a cab and selling cars) her mother’s family was still reeling from prohibition as the family business had owned restaurant bars and horse tracks.

The depression hit, her dad was out of work, their house foreclosed and all their personal items were auctioned, including Irene’s trike. Her father George Francis Steinhardt looked for work everywhere . He decided if they were going to be broke and poor, at least do it in style in the resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey. His wife Stella found them a room behind the local synagogue before finding a house to rent.

Eventually Irene’s father became a full-time salesman and worked a second job as a night watchman to help his family get ahead during the depression. Irene and her big brother Edward Eugene Steinhardt cruised the beach, gawked at stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, danced to Glenn Miller live, studied Latin sold saltwater taffy and ice cream on the boardwalk. Irene (mom) often talked about the magic of living in Atlantic City during the depression and afterwards. Having the ocean as their playground, mom became an outstanding swimmer and passed this on to her children and grandchildren. Her love for the ocean never wavered in her life. As a teenager she and her brother worked on the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City during the summers. Their dad was right. Great place to live, even if you’re struggling financially.

After high school her brother went off to medical school and Irene to nurse’s training, where she picked up a strep infection. These were the days before penicillin. She was treated with sulfa drugs and sent home for months of recovery. Her family then decided she would be safer at college. She enrolled in the all-women college NJC (now Douglas). The war was on. The girls were all encouraged to do their part and support the troops at the local USO dances. Before finishing school Irene fell in love with the new enlisted Darrell Monroe Hedgecock and off Aiken, South Carolina they went-no waiting, no age requirements and got married.

When Darrell was shipped overseas Irene joined the Waves (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) and worked for the Navy as a weather observer. Not only did Irene serve her country but she also made lifelong friends during her time in the Navy. She almost lost her honorable discharge for having modified her regulation uniform into a cuter jaunty look. That was Irene ahead of her time in fashion. She always believed in classics but comfort, especially shoes.

After the war Irene and Darrell completed their education at Michigan State College. Another Margaret Mead in the making Irene completed her degree in anthropology with a study of caste and class in rural America.

Instead of working Irene survived virus X and polio and had three children, ran Indian Guides out of her basement, took 60 Brownies on an all-day field trip with only one other very pregnant adult to Hershey Pennsylvania’s candy factory and theme park. The song 99 bottles of beer on the wall became her favorite way of entertaining children and to keep them calm during road and field trips.

Irene did enter the workforce, but her children came first. She earned her teaching credential from Cal State Fullerton and became a teacher in Orange County. She loved teaching and was happy to have the summer off with her kids. She loved her kids and school for the gifted that she worked for. Eventually her own kids went to college and Irene and Darrell moved to San Jose soon to be known as Silicon Valley.

With a hiring freeze in education, she found herself working for Social Services in the county of Santa Clara. But first she needed to pass the county typing test. This might have been the hardest task she had in learning. She did pass and scored high on the test and became a eligibility worker for Santa Clara County. San Jose was all orange groves, but as the valley became more diverse with computers and immigrants Irene also found diversity. She did intake paperwork in the lockdown ward of the county mental facility, was a union leader, made home inspection visits that often ended with her personally collecting money for bus fares and diapers. Finally, by chance, luck or design, she found herself teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to adults. Motivated students and enthusiastic teacher: it was a perfect union. To this day she still receives greetings from her former students.

During this time is when Irene fell in love with Apple computers. Upon her death, she had the latest iPad and knew how to solve any computer issues with it. She was amazing in her love of new technology. She talked about how she lived before a time of television to computers where you could have the world of knowledge at your fingertips in a moment. Let’s not forget how she loved having Alexa to ask what time it is, what is the weather today, turn on or turn off the lamp or to look up historical facts and figures. In her last years she turned to Youtube, NetFlix, Hulu and Amazon Prime for hours of watching history, documentaries, current and old classics. Three of mom’s favorite movies were Fiddler on the Roof, To Kill a Mockingbird and High Noon. High Noon her kids figured must have been their Dad’s suggestion, but she loved this movie and watched all three movies in the last six months of her life.

Retirement came late at 75. Irene moved to Eureka in 1998 and quickly started taking classes and workshops at HSU and CR from Feng Shui to the Movies of Alfred Hitchcock. She connected with Cal Courts and won the first Fit Frosty award. Irene joined AAUW (American Association of University Women) bringing the program of Great Decisions to Humboldt County. She was an associated member of the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee working with Barber Boxer and Mike Thompson on events and voter registration (hopefully Democrats). She placed pamphlets at all the local video stores about actors who had died from smoking plus manning booths for the American Cancer Society. Lived in the Meadows senior complex and was involved with all the activities from crafts to genealogy. Rounding out her circle of friends and activities was the First United Methodist Church in Eureka. Irene was proud of the Peace Virgil held there. As a Veteran and a patriot, she knew the price of peace. And she knew the importance of being vaccinated. As a young woman she contracted polio before they had vaccinations and was the worst scare of her life. She was one of the first in Humboldt County to get her Covid vaccination and encouraged everyone else to do so. She never understood what the fuss was and she was very grateful there was a vaccination to help prevent death and suffering.

It was truly an amazing life that her children Virginia, Edward, and Diane will struggle to honor. She also leaves two beautiful grandchildren Emma ,and Nathan , two cousins and many beloved nieces and nephews.

Irene left Jan. 13, 2022.

With COVID no services are planned.


The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Irene Steinhardt’s loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.