In a field that traditionally belonged to men, Iris Harrell '69 started her own remodeling company and hired mostly women. Having been a teacher in Virginia and a self-taught carpenter in Texas, she took a construction home study course in 1986 and opened Harrell Remodeling Inc. in the San Francisco Bay area. At one point, the award-winning company earned $11 million in annual sales and employed a staff of 50. Harrell credits her undergraduate education with providing her the skills and the self-reliance she needed to strike out and succeed on her own.
A first-generation college student, Iris was at UMW on scholarship and student and teacher loans. When her parents divorced during her senior year, she suddenly found herself without resources to complete her studies. However, through the kindness of an anonymous donor, money was found for Iris to stay for her senior year and graduate with her class. Iris says her mother never even had the chance to go to college; so, in 2006, Iris established the Evelyn Harrell Scholarship to honor her mother’s memory.
Now that Iris is retired, she and her spouse of 36 years, Ann Benson, are remodeling their own home and finding time for golf, yoga, square dancing, and travel. Iris and Ann recently revived their musical interests and have formed a group with the same original band name called More Joy. Iris and Ann also led the way in endowing the Class of 1969 50th Reunion Scholarship in time to celebrate the 50th class reunion in 2019.