Mary Jean Irion, 96, died on Oct. 16, 2019, surrounded by her family in Willow Street, Pennsylvania.
Born in Newport, Kentucky, Mary Jean grew up in Elyria, Ohio. There she met her beloved husband, Paul E. Irion, in ninth-grade algebra class. They celebrated 75 years of marriage on Aug. 29, 2019.
She was the daughter of the late Verda and Mary McNeill McElfresh and raised from infancy by her grandparents, Joe and Carrie McElfresh.
Prior to moving to Lancaster County in 1960, Mary Jean and Paul, a minister and seminary professor, lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and Tioga and Long Grove, Illinois. They resided on Kready Avenue in Millersville from 1962 to 2003, when they moved to Willow Valley Communities.
An accomplished and passionate poet, essayist and teacher, her prose work includes three published books: From the Ashes of Christianity (1968), Yes, World, A Mosaic of Mediation (1970), both concerning the post-Christian era, and She-Fire: A Safari Into the Human Spirit (2012), a poetic armchair travel narrative inspired by her travel to Kenya. Her poems have been widely published, a number have won national awards, and some have been anthologized in a chapbook, Holding On (1984).
Mary Jean and Paul spent 40 summers at “Fernwood,” their home in Chautauqua, New York. With Paul’s unwavering support, in 1988 she founded and served as the first director of the Writers’ Center at Chautauqua Institution.
She received a bachelor’s degree in English from Millersville University, was a member of the Academy of American Poets, Poets and Writers, and a Fellow of The Society for The Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture, based in New York. For several years she taught English literature at Lancaster Country Day School and continued to share her love of language by teaching poetry at Willow Valley.
Mary Jean is survived by her son Mark Irion (Elizabeth); grandchildren Melissa Markley (Christopher Pratt), Marc Irion (Melissa) and Michael Irion; four great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren. Her daughter, Lisa Markley, preceded her in death in 1997.
A Celebration of Life was held on Nov. 6, 2019. Private interment will take place in Chautauqua, New York.
Memorial contributions may be sent in her name to Hospice and Community Care, 685 Good Drive, P.O. Box 4125, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17604.