Jean Norris Ihrie, 89

Helped run family's potato chip business during World War II

November 04, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

Jean Norris Ihrie, who married into a Baltimore family whose name became synonymous with potato chips, died Friday of complications from hip surgery at her Clearwater Beach, Fla., residence. The Baltimore native was 89.

Born Jean Norris, she was raised on Gittings Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. After graduating with honors from Seton High School in 1935, she worked as a telephone operator. The next year, she married Paul Ihrie, who was co-president of Mrs. Ihrie's Potato Chips Inc., the company founded in the early 1920s in the basement of his mother's Fulton Avenue home.

During World War II, Jean Ihrie and two sisters-in-law ran the company, then located on Smithson Street in West Baltimore, after their husbands were drafted, recalled her son, Robert S. Ihrie of Clearwater Beach, Fla.

"Mom and the other two wives kept the company going for four years," Mr. Ihrie said. "My dad was general management, his brother was sales management and his brother-in-law was production management. When their husbands went to war, the women did it all."

In 1949, the company moved to the first block of N. Smallwood St., where for more than four decades it stood as Baltimore's only potato chip company. Over the years, Mrs. Ihrie's potato chips joined National Bohemian Beer and Esskay hot dogs as uniquely Baltimore brands.

Robert Ihrie said that when his mother was a youngster, casting directors invited her to audition for a role in the "Our Gang" films, but his grandmother disapproved.

"My mom was very, very pretty," said Mr. Ihrie. "But my grandmother said she wasn't going to have her daughter involved in that newfangled movie stuff."

Sunshine Biscuits bought the potato chip company in the late 1960s, Robert Ihrie said, noting that his father remained with the company, commuting to New York each Monday from the family's home in South Florida.

In 1996, the couple moved to Las Vegas. Paul Ihrie died in 2001. A year later, his wife moved to Clearwater Beach, Fla.

Mrs. Ihrie, who enjoyed playing bridge and pinochle, also was a fan of computers and the Internet, her son said.

"Once e-mail was available, she loved that," he said. "She kept in touch with friends and family that way. She didn't like waiting for the mail when you could push the button and have it right away."

Her son said she liked using the computer to do billing and product research for a printing company he owned.

A graveside service is planned for early next month at Memory Gardens Memorial Park in Las Vegas, where her husband is buried, said her son.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Linda Jean Ackerman of Cortland, Ohio; a grandson; and a great-grandson.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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