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William Dearden ’40 – A Dream Fulfilled 

During the Great Depression, enrollment to the Hershey Industrial School – now Milton Hershey School – increased three-fold. By 1935, the school expanded to over 800 students, one of which was thirteen-year-old William “Bill” Dearden, future CEO of The Hershey Company. 

William Dearden

After the loss of his mother, William Dearden’s father struggled to find a job and provide for his family. Coming to Hershey Industrial School provided stability for both William and his younger brother. Having three meals a day, good clothing, and a stable home was a significant change for him. As he later stated, “Mr. Hershey built a bridge for those of us who have been fortunate enough to be one of ‘his boys.’” 

While at school, Dearden was involved in everything from athletics to glee club and graduated at the top of his class. He believed that participating in athletics taught him how to build a great team, and that one person cannot do it all. This idea that a team is only as great as the sum of its parts is the philosophy that would later follow him into his own career. 

College, Return to Hershey

After his graduation in 1940, Dearden attended Hershey Junior College for one year before accepting an athletic scholarship to Albright College. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II. Dearden enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was sent to Harvard Business School as a part of his military service.  

By the early 1950s, he found himself back at MHS as the assistant placement director. Dearden felt that he owed a great debt to both Mr. Hershey and the school community because of all the opportunities the school gave him. When discussing coming back to the school he said, “One of the reasons for my returning to my Alma Mater was my strong feeling toward the school and what it did for me as a student. “ 

William Dearden played on the Milton Hershey School basketball team.

Focusing on Chocolate

In 1957, Dearden accepted a position to work as the assistant to John J. Gallagher, Chairman of the Board at the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. From there, climbing the corporate ladder, he led the Hershey Company through difficult challenges that would set the company on the path to success. He built departments from the ground up, implementing new products, creating a marketing department, and revamping sales while diversifying the company’s business interests. Eventually, as the CEO, he launched Hershey Chocolate into the number one confectionary firm in the United States. He is also credited for saving High Point Mansion, Milton Hershey’s home, when he turned it into the new corporate offices after there was talk of selling or even demolishing it.  

One thing William Dearden never forgot was the ultimate mission of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation, which was keeping Milton Hershey’s dream alive through the Milton Hershey School. He understood the importance of creating a modern strategic plan with positive outcomes which would lay out the groundwork for a successful company and, in turn, a successful school. In addition, as a member of the Board of Managers, he was vocal in his determination that the school should integrate and was part of the 1968 decision to include boys of all races and then later to include girls.  

From humble beginnings, William Dearden became the first Milton Hershey School graduate to lead the Hershey Chocolate Corporation and fulfill Milton’s dream that one day one of “his boys” would run his chocolate factory.  

William Dearden had a room in his home dedicated to Milton S. Hershey.

Remembering William Dearden

A new special exhibit exploring the life of William “Bill” Dearden opened at the Hershey Story Museum on May 3. You can also learn more about Dearden at The Dearden House on the Alumni Campus at MHS. 

Explore The Dearden Foundation

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.