Infertility, Chocolate, & Orphans
"Guess what I'm doing for my wax museum project," my 10-year-old son, West, sang as he bounded in the door from school.
I glanced up from my bubbling pot of marinara to capture him in a one-armed hug.
"Um, I don't know," I replied. "Lionel Messi?"
The Argentinian soccer star would've been a natural choice for my AYSO-loving 4th grader.
"Nope!" West said with a grin. "Milton Hershey!"
"That's awesome, Buddy! You can learn all about how he started his chocolate factory!" I remarked, thinking of my favorite Hershey Special Darks.
A couple weeks later, when West asked me to listen to his prepared speech, I was dumbfounded to learn that chocolate making was only the beginning of Milton Hershey's legacy.
As it turns out, Milton and his wife, Kitty, were unable to have children. Kitty suffered from a debilitating disease of the nervous system which affected her mobility and balance and likely caused her to be infertile. One can only imagine how hard this hit Milton and Kitty as they carried out their daily lives in Derry Church, Pennsylvania, a countryside dotted with hearty Dutch households brimming with kids. The town coined "The Sweetest Place on Earth" thanks to Hershey's chocolate factory must have held some bitterness for the couple as they grieved their inability to pass on their substantial blessings to a biological child.
You might expect the Hershey's personal story to end there, with Kitty shut up in their stately mansion mourning life's injustices while Milton sought fulfillment in his hard-earned riches. After all, infertility's chronic grief cycle has a way of turning us inward to build walls of self protection so we can be left alone to dwell on our losses. However, Milton and Kitty went a different route that transformed their grief into a legacy of generosity.
In a move that Milton always claimed was Kitty's idea, the two founded the Industrial School for orphaned boys, a boarding school where poor children were afforded a stable and dependable upbringing along with a first-rate education.
Intrigued by the Hershey story, and recognizing a golden opportunity, Mark and I surprised the kids by stopping in Hershey, Pennsylvania on our way home from visiting family in the Washington, DC area. It had been just a week since West finished his Milton Hershey speech and, as educators, we were eager to extend our kids' learning with an extreme field trip.
After becoming official "palateers" at the Chocolate Experience, we hopped on a historical trolley ride, where we learned more details about Milton and Kitty Hershey and their beloved town.
As we zipped down Chocolate Avenue with its Hershey's Kiss streetlamps, we plucked shiny wrapped candy out of baskets which were passed around at every stop. We savored the taste of melting chocolate while the trolley conductor regaled us with stories of Milton and Kitty and their legacy, the Hershey trust, currently valued at $45 million. This stockpile will send needy students to Milton Hershey School, as well as to college, well into the foreseeable future.
In addition to a passion for helping orphaned kids, Kitty loved her flower gardens and Milton enjoyed spreading the Hershey wealth all over town (he had homes custom-built and sold them to Hershey executives for $1).
I couldn't help but ponder how different life would be in Hersheytown had Milton and Kitty chosen to wallow in their grief instead of jumping into the life God had given them. I, for one, spent years wallowing over my infertility, likely missing many opportunities for blessing others along the way.
Unlike Milton and Kitty, most of us don't have a pile of cash at our disposal, but we do have God-given gifts and we have today--right now--to use them.The secret of the Hershey's success has less to do with the farm-fresh milk in their chocolate and more to do with their legacy. Milton and Kitty grasped that the only way to break free from their losses was to joyfully share what they had been given. Their generosity is a sweet lesson for us all.