The Gift of Thanksgiving Traditions at Milton Hershey School
It is fitting that the Deed of Trust creating Hershey Industrial School was signed by Mr. and Mrs. Hershey on November 15, 1909—during the season of harvest and thanksgiving. Giving, nurturing, and growing were important to the Hersheys; practically from the soil, but, more importantly, in human terms with the thousands of children who have benefited from attending Milton Hershey School.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated in a variety of ways at the school. In 1913, there was a program given by the school for the Hershey community.
An article in the Hershey Weekly urged the Hershey public to attend the program by saying that they “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 presentation featured recitations and songs by the students.
In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, a large dinner of roasted duck or turkey was served. In a 1934 report from farm home Springdale published in the school publication, 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 to burn off their meals.
The editorial of the student-produced Spartan publication in 1960 shared a message that, “Today, we have so much more reason to be thankful…the many things provided by our school’s founders.”
Gathering around the table for Thanksgiving dinner is a timeless family tradition at MHS. In 2014, the entire student body and houseparents gathered for a Founders Feast at the Hershey Lodge. The purpose of the event was to recognize our founders, Milton and Catherine Hershey, and to celebrate, reflect, and express Thanksgiving collectively as an MHS community. This tradition continues today with a Senior Pinning Ceremony and Founders Feast where staff members serve the students a meal.
The atmosphere of thanks commences this year with the observance of Founders Week and continues throughout the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond. It was Milton Hershey’s wish that the students of his school family take their place in life and become useful, happy citizens—this is how Mr. Hershey wanted to be thanked.