Eichler Salesman Jonas Harschel --
His Uncompromised Values Live on
A bright light in the Eichler world dimmed recently when Jonas Harschel, a key player of Eichler Homes sales staff in the company's heyday and one of its most colorful and engaging characters, passed away April 11, 2007. He was 88.
Like Joe Eichler, Jonas Harschel was a passionate, outspoken liberal who rarely minced words. Even before he began his five-year career with Eichler as a salesman in 1960, Mr. Harschel, a Dutch-born Jew who had lost nearly 60 family members to Adolph Hitler in World War II, bitterly opposed the death penalty and racial discrimination. In Eichler Homes, Harschel found acceptance, dignity, and an environment that had "political attitudes and social values that were like a refreshing shower to me."
Before joining Eichler, Harschel was a successful insurance salesman with a prominent San Francisco firm but had begun to feel increasingly stifled by what he said was a pervasive conservatism at his company. He initially had gained access to Eichler Homes when he approached the builder in an effort to sell him life insurance. His bid was eventually successful, and during the process of negotiating with the senior Eichler, Harschel became friendly with his son Ned. He found in Ned a person, to his thinking, refreshingly enlightened, and someone he felt could be a political ally.
That chance meeting planted the seed for a new career working alongside people that shared and supported his social and political values and beliefs. “I began to talk with Ned, and became involved in a delightful political conversation,” Harschel told us. “Contrary to the stifingly reactionary life insurance business, these people supported some of the most progressive social policies and displayed more courage, more integrity, and a deeper social conscience than any business I had ever known.”
Harschel enthusiastically took on his new opportunity with Eichler Homes to be part home salesman and part social activist. His personal philosophy was a good match for their homeowners, many of whom at the time were liberal and needed little of his activism to be convinced that Eichler subdivisions held the right community atmosphere. Harschel adamantly supported Eichler's nondiscrimination policy and was quick to snuff out any resistance to it that he encountered on the job. “While it was common practice in the real estate industry to suddenly go deaf, dumb, and blind when a 'negro' walked into a broker’s office -- and all properties were mysteriously 'just rented,' 'just sold,' or 'why not try us next time' -- Eichler Homes had a publicly stated fair housing policy. Imagine, here were liberal businessmen bucking American industry’s racist policies, and insisted on selling good design at fair prices -- because it was the right thing to do!”
Over the past decade, the Eichler Network interviewed the outspoken Harschel several times. Always present were his uncompromised values, his feistiness, his wit, and his great storytelling and stories. But underlying all of those traits were a great sense of appreciation for Joe Eichler and his company, and pride for his role as an Eichler salesman. “I got a duty to my employer, if I believe in his product," Harschel pointed out during one of those interviews. "I’ve got a duty to sell a subdivision and make all the owners a part of a good subdivision. If you’ve got a terrific house in a lousy subdivision, the house is worthless. That’s a responsibility that I took on myself.”
For the past 40 years, Mr. Harschel resided in an Eichler home in the Burlingame Mills Estates development with his wife Cora, who survives him.
For additional information on Mr. Harschel -- who will be missed, and remembered with great appreciation and admiration -- see our Feature on File, written and first published in 1997...