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Pa. Town Looks to Honor Hershey

October 15, 2002

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HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) _ As you inhale the sweet smell of chocolate wafting near the intersection of Chocolate and Cocoa avenues, it’s hard to believe that the hometown of the nation’s largest candy maker is just a name used by the Postal Service.

Although it’s known worldwide as Hershey, Pa., the home of Hershey Foods Corp. formally is the municipality of Derry Township, founded about 170 years before Milton S. Hershey started building his first chocolate factory in 1903.

Now in a bid to protect what they see as the town’s identity, Derry Township supervisors will ask voters in a Nov. 5 referendum if they want to change the name of the 21,000-resident municipality to Hershey Township. In Pennsylvania, most municipalities outside major cities are called townships.

The idea was formed over the summer as community opposition galvanized against a possible sale of Hershey Foods, whose products include Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Local leaders feared the community would lose its identity if the company changed hands.

The prospect of a sale disappeared after the Hershey Trust Co., which controls the company, announced in September that it had rejected two bids that both exceeded $10 billion. Supporters say passing the referendum will help ensure the company stays put.

``Very simply, we as a board put it on the ballot so the people would have a choice,″ said August ``Skip″ Memmi, chairman of the township supervisors. ``We were attempting to guarantee that Hershey would always be called Hershey.″

Millions of visitors descend on Hershey every year to visit landmarks like the Hershey Theater, the elaborate Hotel Hershey, and the amusement park that founder Milton S. Hershey built for his factory workers.

While many residents agreed that Hershey Foods should remain under the control of the trustees, they are less united over the idea of changing the 28-square-mile township’s name.

Sandi Orth, who has lived in the community a dozen miles east of Harrisburg for 10 years, intends to vote in favor of Hershey Township.

``My personal belief is that Milton Hershey put this town on the map because of his company,″ said Orth, 39, a state employee taking advantage of the Columbus Day holiday to wax her car outside her home. ``The tourists come here because of the company and because of Hersheypark.″

But those who oppose a name change say it would diminish the historical importance of the Scots-Irish Presbyterians who established the community in 1729, long before founder Milton S. Hershey was born in 1857.

``I have not heard a compelling argument for making this change. I don’t understand why they want to do it. Derry Township has been in existence since 1729,″ said Kathleen Lewis, a lifelong resident and president of the Derry Township Historical Society. ``I just can’t imagine Nestle or anyone else coming in and saying that the name of the town has to change.″

John Moyer, a local farmer whose ancestors were among the original Derry Township settlers, said that as long as the U.S. Postal Service maintains a post office with a Hershey ZIP code, residents need not worry about losing their identity.

``This idea was poorly planned, during a period of great paranoia and almost hysteria that we were going to be a decimated town,″ he said. ``The post office is a federal function, so it would still be Hershey regardless of what happened. If they threatened to take that away, don’t you think we’d have four to five times the outcry we had over the possible sale?″

Others, like Curtis J. Walizer, owner of a local insurance agency, are undecided.

``I have ambivalent feelings about it,″ Walizer said as he opened a small box of cigars he purchased at a local tobacco shop. ``You have the heritage of Derry Church, which was the original community. ... But then again, I kind of see myself as an ambassador of Hershey wherever I go, because it’s such a great place to live.″


On the Net:

Derry Township: http://www.derrytownship.org

Hershey Foods: http://www.hersheys.com

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