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Milton Hershey School Honors Alumnus Jack Thomas ’39 for Generous Gift to Education

On Friday, May 19, the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools in Lee County, Florida, met to celebrate educational successes within the community. But that wasn’t all it celebrated. Milton Hershey School joined the Foundation in honor of alumnus Jack Thomas ’39, who donated nearly two million dollars to further educate students in Southwest Florida, because of the gift he received in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Milton Hershey School alumnus John E. "Jack" Thomas.

MHS President Pete Gurt ’85 joined the celebration to pay tribute to a great man, sharing the parallels between Jack and Mr. Hershey’s lives, which included donating selflessly and anonymously to education.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hershey gave so much of themselves—to many children they’d never meet—and the ripple effects of their generosity are felt today far beyond Hershey, Pa. Through Jack, that ripple effect has reached the Gulf Coast of Florida,” Gurt shared.

After receiving his high school diploma from Milton S. Hershey, earning several degrees, and hosting a successful career with Exxon, Jack retired to Fort Myers, Florida, with his wife Jean. There, he found the Foundation for Lee County Public School’s Take Stock in Children program, which offers resources and scholarships to students in search of new opportunities, just like Milton Hershey School did for him.

He became a major donor of the Foundation, giving $250,000 dollars over several years. Upon his death in 2022, he left $1.6 million to support the Take Stock in Children program.

“As I close, let it be said that Jack Thomas might be the greatest example of what the Hersheys hoped for in children when they started Milton Hershey School. Like the Hersheys, may Jack’s legacy live on in the smiles and successes of children, who will never meet Jack or know him personally, but will always know how much he cared. That care is the mark of a great man,” Gurt said.

As a reminder of Jack’s sweet gift, MHS gave each attendee a chocolate bar and admissions materials to share the word of the education that set Jack up for great success. Additionally, MHS, Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, and The Hershey Company sponsored the event. The event also included a special video tribute to Jack’s life, while also honoring many other volunteers and community members who have gone above and beyond to support education for the young people of Lee County—even during a catastrophic hurricane.

Milton Hershey School President Pete Gurt '85 stands with Barbara Milos, Jack Thomas' '39 daughter, and Marshall Bower, the President & CEO of the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, with a check.

Jack Thomas’ story is a great reminder to all that sometimes the greatest gift you can give yourself is to pay your success forward.

Learn More about the Event Read More about Jack

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.