When my Philadelphia Media Network colleague tweeted that his The Chocolate Trust had been released, I picked it up immediately. Growing up in Lebanon, PA, just miles down the road from Hershey, the sprawling campus straddling 322 was obviously impressive, but I never knew much about the educational practices. As a boarding school alum myself, I knew MHS wasn’t really part of that world, but also that there must be some complex enterprise keeping the chocolate-funded institution in motion.
Fernandez’s portrait is of an intertwined charitable-corporate complex that was influenced moreso by political and economic considerations than by the mission of educating at-risk youth. A story that runs parallel to that of the corrupt city capitol Harrisburg, PA during the last century, the Chocolate Trust’s rise to enormous wealth and unprecedented power in the Lebanon Valley, a stature that I believe is under-appreciate by most (myself included until finishing the book). Even otherwise innocuous seeming community fixtures, like the Highlands Grill, a restaurant I’d go to when visiting my dad, turning out to be a spectacularly ill-conceived acquisition by MHS.
There is obviously a whole different story to be told about MHS as well – that of the educators and the alumni and those who were positively affected by the institution– but the thesis here is not that MHS bore no good this past century, but that it could be bearing good so much more effectively than it has. A worthy cause indeed and some great journalism behind it.