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One Last Gift

A mourner pays his respects at Milton Hershey's gravesite, October 16, 1945
A mourner pays his respects at Milton Hershey’s gravesite, October 16, 1945

In 1944 Milton Hershey signed a new will and testament to replace the one he had created in 1909, before he had transferred his fortune to the Milton Hershey School trust fund. The new will and testament was a brief, two page document. It provided that most of  his “estate, real, personal and mixed,” should be put into a new trust fund.

At the time of his death his estate consisted of the wealth that he had accumulated since his endowment of the Milton Hershey School trust fund in 1918. The beneficiary of this new trust fund would be the Derry Township School District. Milton Hershey had been very supportive of the community’s public schools during his lifetime and he wanted to provide an enduring legacy for them. The purpose of the new trust fund would be for “assisting the Township to relieve tax burden for the upkeep and maintenance of the Township’s public schools.” In making these plans, Milton Hershey was particularly unsentimental. His will directed that his personal belongings should be auctioned and the proceeds added to the new trust fund.

Following his death on October 13, 1945, his executor, the Hershey Trust Company, made plans for a public auction of his estate.

Complying with Milton Hershey’s wishes, the auction was held at the Community Building on Monday and Tuesday, December 17-18, 1945. Several Hershey executives protested the sale, wanting to keep his collection intact. They argued that his personal belongings, which included furniture, rugs, linens, draperies, framed photographs, books, paintings, multiple sets of flatware and dinnerware and his personal jewelry, belonged in the Hershey Museum. Apparently his executors, William F.R. Murrie, Ezra Hershey and William H. Earnest, agreed. While the bulk of his personal belongings were sold at Auction, the furniture that had filled Milton Hershey’s apartment at the Hershey Country Club (High Point) was removed from the sale and Hershey Estates purchased these items. For many years the furniture was exhibited at the Hershey Museum as a memorial to Milton Hershey. Today while much of the furniture is in museum storage, a few pieces are on exhibit in The Hershey Story and at Milton Hershey School’s Founders Hall.

The Auction was held in the Community Building Social Room. There were afternoon and evening sessions with a large attendance. It appears that there was something for everyone. The Auction flyer highlighted large collections of Cauldron, Coalport and Dresden china, rare ivory pieces, cut glass, bronze statuary, silverware, oil paintings, linens and fine furniture. The Auction was handled by L.J. Gilbert and Son, Lebanon, PA auctioneers. The sale raised just over $17,000 and when added to Milton Hershey’s financial holdings the sale proceeds helped to create a trust fund endowment valued in 1945 at about $900,000.

Since its creation the Milton S. Hershey Testamentary Trust fund has made semi-annual payments to the School District with the goal of helping to underwrite the expense of Hershey’s public education program. Today the Milton S. Hershey Testamentary Trust Fund is valued at about $23.9 million and Derry Township School District receives about $1.8 million a year to support its budget.

Hershey Community Archives is a rich resource with many resources that document Milton Hershey’s life. The Paul Wallace collection includes a variety of archival material that documents Mr. Hershey’s life. Click this link to view the finding aid for this collection.

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