“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to tell us about life in the places they represent, from the high-profile events to the fun facts only the locals know.
The center of the chocolate universe, Hershey, Pa., is home to The Hershey Co., which makes 90 different products, including its iconic Kisses as well as the Reese’s, Kit Kat, Jolly Rancher, Ice Breakers, SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty brands. The town is also home to Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co., which includes Hersheypark amusement park, Hershey’s Chocolate World and other attractions.
The area is the creation of candy magnate and philanthropist Milton S. Hershey, who began building the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing plant in his hometown of Derry Church in 1903. He wanted to make milk chocolate, then a Swiss luxury product, and sell it to the American public. Soon he decided to bring more than chocolate to the masses, and his focus shifted to philanthropy.
The chocolate plant and its surrounding area are represented in the Pennsylvania General Assembly by Representative Thomas Mehaffie III (R), near right, and Senator John DiSanto (R). Both say that Milton Hershey’s legacy goes beyond chocolate.
“We all know how Mr. Hershey developed The Hershey Co. to provide quality jobs and a quality product,” says Mehaffie, who keeps Hershey’s Kisses in candy dishes on his desks in his district office and at the Capitol. “However, the general public may not be as aware of his charitable endeavors.”
For plant employees, Hershey built a company town with tree-lined streets, public transportation, and cultural and recreational options. He established the M.S. Hershey Foundation, which supports The Hershey Story museum, Hershey Gardens, the Hershey Theatre and the Hershey Community Archives.
“Milton Hershey’s legacy, besides great chocolate, is his positive impact on so many lives and the strength of the community he helped build,” DiSanto says.
Today, the Hershey community calls itself “The Sweetest Place on Earth” and has several attractions. Hersheypark has 70 rides, including its newest roller coaster, Candymonium. The chocolate-making process is replicated at Hershey’s Chocolate World, which was built in the 1970s to replace the plant tours. Visitors will also find restaurants, trolley tours and the MeltSpa by Hershey, where they can experience spa treatments such as the dark chocolate sugar scrub.
We caught up with Mehaffie and DiSanto to talk about how important chocolate and Milton Hershey’s legacy are to their communities.
For the rest of the nation, the name “Hershey” is synonymous with chocolate. What has it meant for your district?
Mehaffie: Milton Hershey built his company and school using unparalleled entrepreneurism and innovation. Businesspeople in the Hershey area still demonstrate those same character traits today. We have a world-renowned brand and amusement park that are joined by incredible small businesses, restaurants, recreational opportunities and government services. Hershey is the sweetest place on earth for more than just chocolate.
DiSanto: The Hershey Co. has been in Dauphin County’s Derry Township since 1903, when Milton Hershey built his new chocolate factory after first launching in Lancaster County. This iconic brand has made this area famous around the world. The tremendous economic impact and thousands of jobs from the factory, Hershey’s Chocolate World, Hersheypark and other namesake businesses keep the Hershey community vibrant and growing.
How would you describe Milton Hershey’s legacy?
Mehaffie: The Milton Hershey School celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2019. The school has played such an important role in educating at-risk children. Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, created the school for orphaned boys, whom they said deserved a “real home.” Today, Milton Hershey School has nearly 11,000 alumni thanks in large part to the Hersheys’ generosity. Additionally, Milton Hershey launched a public works program during the Great Depression and employed more than 600 people, who built major landmarks like the Hotel Hershey and Hershey Community Theatre. It is awe-inspiring to think about the impact made by one man.
DiSanto: In 1918 Milton Hershey donated his fortune to a trust to support what has become the Milton Hershey School, a cost-free, coeducational, residential school and home for children from lower-income families. Also, the Milton Hershey Foundation funded the construction of the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center more than 50 years ago, which has become a pioneer in health care delivery, clinical innovation and medical research, even developing the world’s first artificial heart.
What’s next for the area?
Mehaffie: Hersheypark recently opened a section it calls Chocolatetown. There, visitors can find a new restaurant and bar as well as the park’s 15th and biggest coaster. In the broader community, we have additional amenities being built next to the expanded Hershey Public Library, which itself is a gem.
What else is great about your district?
Mehaffie: In addition to Hershey, which is actually in Derry Township, my district includes Swatara, Lower Swatara and Conewago townships as well as Hummelstown, Middletown and Royalton boroughs. Each community has such a rich history of neighbors serving neighbors. We have exceptionally good schools, a world-class hospital and health system, dedicated volunteers and charities, and a strong economy. I’m blessed to be a part of the 106th District.
DiSanto: The 15th Senatorial District is almost a microcosm of Pennsylvania overall, with urban (Harrisburg, the state capital), suburban (the outskirts of Harrisburg, including Hershey) and rural areas (Northern Dauphin and Perry counties). There’s strength in our diversity, with exceptional dining, shopping, housing, employment, medical care, and recreational and cultural opportunities of all sorts within an hour’s drive.
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelancer. Interviews have edited for length and clarity.