The Gift of Thanksgiving Traditions
It is fitting that the Deed of Trust creating The Hershey Industrial School was signed by Mr. and Mrs. Hershey on Nov. 15, 1909 during the season of harvest and thanks. Giving, nurturing, and growing were important to the Hersheys—practically from the soil, but more importantly with the thousands of children who have benefited from attending the school. An interview with Mr. Hershey in McClure’s Magazine in April 1924, titled “How Hershey Pays Back His Chocolate Millions,” Mr. Hershey said, “If I live ten years I expect to be repaid a thousand-fold for my efforts… and if I should drop out tomorrow the reward would accrue just the same.”
As the school celebrates the 100th anniversary of Mr. Hershey’s $60 million gift to establish the perpetual trust—and the highest enrollment ever—there is more reason than ever to give thanks.
Earliest Thanksgiving on Record
Thanksgiving at Milton Hershey School has been celebrated in a variety of ways over the years. In 1913, students organized a program for the Hershey community. The presentation—held in the old dance pavilion at Hersheypark—was advertised in the Hershey’s Weekly newspaper. The first article publicizing the Thanksgiving program featured a paragraph by Mr. George Copenhaver, the first superintendent of the school.
In urging the Hershey public to attend the program he said, “[you] could hardly spend a more pleasing and novel hour than to dedicate it on Thanksgiving eve to these little charges of the Founder at his noble benefaction.” The program featured a Thanksgiving song selection by the Hershey Orchestra, a reading of the governor’s proclamation by Daniel Copenhaver, son of George and Prudence Copenhaver, in addition to recitations and songs by the students.
Thanksgiving at the school during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s meant a large dinner of roasted duck or turkey. In a 1934 report from farm home Springdale, published in the student-written School Industrialist, we learn that “after giving their digestive systems some real labor by consuming seven ducks as a portion of a most delightful Thanksgiving dinner, the boys of Springdale await the Christmas feast.” Though the meal was appreciated, the highlight of the day for many was the annual football game between student farm homes—a fond memory for many alumni.
MHS students continue to enjoy the harvest season as they grow and sell pumpkins, corn shocks, and other fall decorating items at MHS Project Market. The atmosphere of gratitude commences with the observance of Founders Week and continues throughout the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond. Alumni of all ages are invited back to student homes across campus to celebrate the holiday with a delicious Thanksgiving feast. The students and staff at Milton Hershey School are reminded that “unto whom much is given, much is expected.”
It was Milton Hershey’s wish that the students of the school take their place in life and become useful citizens—this is how Mr. Hershey wanted to be thanked.
MHS employees even find ways to demonstrate gratitude. The school-wide food drive began more than 10 years ago at Thanksgiving with the need of a single student, and a group of employees.
The MHS Food Bank is an example of the exponential impact that a small act of giving can have, with the right combination of vision for the future, intent to serve students both on and off campus, and enthusiasm to spark engagement across the school community to grow the program. Most of all, Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude for our inspiring students, our dedicated employees, and the amazing gift of our founders.