We are honored to share stories and pay tribute to some of our Guardians of the Future - supporters who include MNA in their estate plans or wills. By doing so, their extraordinary generosity leaves a lasting legacy that will help us sustain MNA's work for generations to come.
Harry Elkins (1921-2017)
Harry Elkins was born in a small house in Richmond, Michigan to Phillip and Sarah Elkins, who had immigrated to America from the shtetls in Eastern Europe. Following the birth of his sisters, Sadie and Doris, the family moved to Mount Clemens, where Harry spent his childhood and early youth until college beckoned. He earned his B.A. at the University of Michigan in 1943, interrupted by a very brief tour in the army, and completed his M.A. in Education at the same institution in 1947. One of Harry's favorite writers at this time was the American novelist Thomas Wolfe, whom he fondly recalled for his fabulous descriptions of tomatoes. He shared his enthusiasm with the poet W.H. Auden, who was then writer in residence at the university, who encouraged him to read the great Russian writer Dostoyevsky.
Shortly after completing his education, Harry met the love of his life, his beloved wife Irene (nee Kensey), who remained his inseparable companion until she passed away at the age of 94 in 2012. Together they traveled the world, especially in Europe, returning each summer to visit with Irene's large family in Sweden, where Harry could also give free reign to his passion for Nordic flora. Throughout these years, until their retirement in their sixties, both Harry and Irene were very popular teachers. Harry spent his career in the Detroit School District, where he taught science and social studies; and Irene, in Detroit and later Grosse Pointe, where she delighted her tiny charges with her artistic and musical talent. In 1961, Harry was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Men's Garden Club of Detroit for supervising a new program designed to introduce school children to the pleasures of gardening. Harry's educational project was the overflow of his lifelong love of gardening and the natural world. Over a period of more than sixty years starting in the early 1950s, he transformed the drab suburban plot of his Grosse Pointe Park home into a botanical wonderland that would attract visitors and travelers from all over Michigan and the world. In the early years of his ever evolving garden, his nephews and nieces - Ann, Phillip, Linda, Sasha, and David - fondly remember the long muddy hikes into nameless woods, led on by our intrepid and ever humorous Uncle Harry and Auntie Irene, as we sought out the haunts of wildflowers, rare mosses, and oddly shaped rocks.
In his career as a gardener, horticulturalist, and landscapist, Harry was the consummate gentleman, always modest but increasingly sought out for his knowledge. He had a special fondness for trilliums in which he became a recognized expert and corresponded with fellow horticulturalists, botanists, and plantsmen throughout the country and all over the world, from Europe to China to Japan. His friends in the world of gardening included such legendary plantsmen and plantswomen as Tage Lundell, Tsuneshige Rokujo, Frederick W. Case Jr., Jaromir Grulich, R.S. Corley, H.G. Hillier, Betty Blake, and many others. He was an active member in numerous organizations, including the North American Rock Garden Society, Alpine Garden Society, Magnolia Society, and Royal Horticultural Society. Locally, he was First Vice President of the Men's Garden Club of Grosse Pointe and helped organize many local events and field trips; and one of several founders of the regional Great Lakes Rock Garden Society. He was a longtime member of the National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and National Audubon Society. He was also an active member of the Michigan Nature Association going all the way back to at least the early 1960s.
Harry was known best to his dear wife Irene. He was a lover of the theatre, the arts, a great reader, teacher, dancer, a gorgeous gardener, intelligent, charming, kind, a world traveler, and good company. We remember him for all these qualities, and for his skill as a conversationalist, storyteller, and his wonderful never to be heard again sublime sense of humor. In gardening, he borrowed from nature. Though his physical garden may survive only in memory, the joy he found in it will be encountered anew in the wildflowers of MNA nature sanctuaries.