I spent the day with Ralph and my mother in Hershey, PA yesterday as part of our effort to keep up Ralph’s spirits by planning fun day trips designed to forget all about the medical challenges we may soon be facing. It had been many, many years since I’d set foot in this central Pennsylvania resort town and I looked forward to taking a ride through the chocolate factory, watching a fun 3-D presentation and taking a one-hour guided trolley tour through downtown Hershey (we’re planning to set aside another day in the near future to go to the amusement park, which was closed).
While I have fond memories of Hershey Park, I had no idea just how remarkable and inspiring town founder Milton Hershey’s “Disney-esque” biography truly is. After a tumultuous childhood of constantly moving from place to place as his father pursued his dreams of greatness — resulting in a limited education for his son, Milton Hershey overcame tremendous odds including bankruptcy, to develop and perfect a method of making chocolate affordable to the masses. Up until that time, chocolate had been a rich man’s luxury in Europe, so when Hershey created his delicious formula and method of distribution in the USA it was a huge success — thereby hurtling him to multi-millionaire status.
And he didn’t stop there. Hershey went on to create a legacy that will live on forever not just for his delicious mass-market chocolate and his well-known entertainment enterprise (Hershey Park, The Hotel Hershey, etc) but for his generosity as an employer and his humanitarian efforts on behalf of orphaned children:
Milton Hershey’s chocolate products became so widely distributed that the name Hershey became synonymous with chocolate. With the Hershey Chocolate Company’s success, Milton Hershey acquired enormous wealth, and this allowed him to devote much of his life to philanthropy. He and his wife opened the Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys in 1909. Although his wife died several years later, Hershey continued to oversee the success of the school, the town, and his business. Even during the Great Depression, Hershey kept the business operating and he continued to employ the town’s residents in the development of the town, including the construction of community buildings and a sports arena, now known as the Hersheypark Arena. He also continued to improve the school, known today as the Milton S. Hershey School. In 1918 he endowed the school with a fortune of Hershey Chocolate Company stock. Today the 10,000 acre school provides for financially needy boys and girls. Hershey established various other trusts and foundations that continue to be extensions of his goodwill. Milton S. Hershey practiced his philanthropy until his death in 1945.
As we rode around the central PA countryside listening to our motorguide tell the Hershey story as he pointed out various landmarks, I couldn’t help but note how this was a prime example of the superiority of capitalism. While society’s leeches and power-hungry politicians deride it as “evil” (for their own nefarious purposes), American trailblazers like Milton Hershey demonstrate capitalism’s inherent goodness when applied correctly and allowed to thrive in a free society.
Would Milton Hershey have been able to provide stellar academic opportunities for impoverished children at the Milton Hershey School, build homes for his employees and then offer them interest-free loans, or keep the town of Hershey employed during the Great Depression had it not been for his own initiative, hard work and persistence as a man with a vision?
And there’s no way any government entity could have implemented a successful company like Hershey, built up a thriving town in the middle of endless cow pastures and installed a world-class educational institute for needy children from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Founded in 1909, today the Milton Hershey School accepts both boys and girls whose families cannot afford a good education:
At Milton Hershey School®, we believe that all students can be successful.
We know that in order to be happy, safe, and productive, students need guidance and support in all parts of their lives.
The excellent education at Milton Hershey School starts with dedicated teachers who care about each student’s learning experience. Classes are small – an average of 15 students for each teacher, so each student gets individual attention and support.
Students live in large, comfortable homes with 10 to 14 students in their own age group. A pair of married houseparents oversee each home, providing the structure that children need and taking an active interest in their development.
We are dedicated to helping our students lead productive and fulfilling lives.
Milton Hershey is indeed an American trailblazer whose legacy continues to live on and affect countless lives for the better. God bless him.