William Henry “Lebbie” Lebkicher, 1845-1929
William Henry “Lebbie” Lebkicher, a wizened, string bean of a man, was a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 1880 he was working on a farm adjoining one of the Snavely farms in southern Lancaster County. The Snavelys were part of Milton Hershey’s mother’s family. It was through them that Lebbie learned of Milton Hershey’s need for help in his first confectionery shop in Philadelphia.
Soon after learning about the job, Lebbie traveled to Philadelphia to work as a jack of all trades at the candy shop. Thus began a friendship that would endure for more than 50 years.
The Civil War veteran boarded with Milton Hershey during the years in Philadelphia. Milton Hershey said, “Lebbie was the only man I couldn’t outwork. But I could out talk him. He didn’t say much, and when he did, he usually snapped at you.”
In spite of much hard work, the Philadelphia confectionery shop failed in 1882 and Milton Hershey and Lebbie Lebkicher went their separate ways. Milton Hershey returned to Lancaster in 1886 and once more sought financial support from his mother’s family to start another venture in candy making. The Snavely family refused to assist him and also suggested that he find another place to sleep that night. Milton Hershey returned to Lancaster City and found shelter with his old employee, Lebbie Lebkicher. At this time Lebbie showed the depth of his fondness for young Milton, providing him with a change of clothes, a hot meal, and a place to sleep. When the railroad station complained about the furniture and candy equipment which Milton had sent “Cash On Delivery” and now had no money to release, Lebbie came to the rescue, paid the delivery charges and had it stored. Milton Hershey never forgot these kindnesses, and after that treated him with all the consideration his own generous nature could show.
Milton Hershey’s success in Lancaster with the Lancaster Caramel Company would lead them both to the town of Derry Church, later to be named “Hershey.” Lebbie remained a close associate of Milton Hershey, heading up early construction projects for the new town and serving as a director for the Hershey Trust Company and Hershey Industrial School (now Milton Hershey School). Milton Hershey deeply trusted him and asked him to look after his mother and wife when he was out of town. He held many job titles but was most often introduced by Milton Hershey as “My good right hand.”
Lebbie Lebkicher never married or had children and perhaps looked upon Milton Hershey as the son he never had. He died on February 10, 1929.