Role Models, Houseparents through Generations
Featuring MHS alumna Shannon Butler ’98, Houseparent
My parents separated when I was 10 or 11 years old, and my siblings and I were separated when that occurred. I left with my mom, and my sister stayed with my dad. One day, my aunt called me and said, “There’s this school in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Let’s go check it out and meet with houseparents and staff.”
We came to Milton Hershey School for a tour. I remember going through Founders Hall and just being in awe. My aunt suggested I fill out an application, but it didn’t cross my mind that I would get accepted.
I remember the phone call came in December 1992. There was a bed they had for me if I wanted it. Thirty days later, on January 19, 1993, I enrolled at MHS as a seventh-grade student just before my 14th birthday.
On my first day at MHS, I can remember meeting my houseparents Dennis and Linda Van Scoyc. I also met my roommate and the other girls in my student home. It was a great first day.
I grew to love my houseparents and had them again in eighth grade. I remember wanting to stay in their student home when it was time to transition to high school. Before I graduated from MHS, I had the Van Scoycs as my houseparents again.
I graduated on May 31, 1998. Like enrollment day, it was another one of those days that you just don’t forget. Even though I was officially an alumna, I stayed in touch with Mr. and Mrs. Van Scoyc. Even now, I love sending Mrs. V. flowers for Mother’s Day and cards for her birthday.
When I started dating my husband, I introduced him to MHS and the Van Scoycs. He told me this is where I belong. I kind of laughed and told him he was crazy. We talked to Mr. and Mrs. Van Scoyc about it. In 2002, we became houseparents, and the Van Scoycs became our mentors and colleagues.
I remember setting a goal for myself to have the relationship that my houseparents had with me as I took on a career with my husband as houseparents.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without my houseparents. Mr. and Mrs. Van Scoyc had modeled great relationships with themselves, their own children, and their students. They displayed a love and grace that sometimes I wasn’t sure I’d be capable of giving.
When I get thank you cards from my students who have moved on to high school or graduated, I think to myself, “Wow, we DID impact them.” Those are small reminders that I AM able to reciprocate to my students what Mrs. V. has given to me. The number of people that one set of houseparents can impact shows just how far-reaching MHS can be.
The generational factor is pretty neat at MHS, too. When my husband and I started as houseparents, we would sometimes have students from the Van Scoyc’s Elementary Division girls student home in our Middle Division girls student home.
I remember my first Thanksgiving meal in the student home. It was a little overwhelming because I had never cooked a turkey before. I called Mrs. V. to ask her for help. She came over that evening and I remember one of our students saying, “If you’re our houseparent, and she was your houseparent, then she must be our grand-houseparent.”
We all got a good laugh, but when you think about how a family typically works, it made sense. Much like family recipes are handed down from generation to generation, to this day I still make Mrs. V.’s stuffing ball recipe. It’s a huge hit for my students.
MHS has taught me dedication, commitment, respect, love, and that family truly is everything.