Joe Eby and the Huge Heart of Hershey, PA
Last week’s story of the great American chocolate company streamlining its operations and laying off 1,500 workers, brought back memories of an extraordinary day 30 years ago that I spent in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Joe Eby was a thin, taciturn guy who owned a real estate business in Hershey and was married to a peppy, delightful little blonde named Muriel. The Ebys loved the game of curling and always received a private invitation to our Nutmeg Curling Club’s annual bonspiel (curling tournament), the Golden Handle, which was held every year at the Darien Country Club in Connecticut.
The Ebys would drive up from Hershey with the other two members of their team, Muriel’s sister and brother-in-law, Bob and Bev Sponaugle. They brought with them an enormous supply of Hershey Kisses that they dispensed to gleeful curlers of all ages throughout the weekend.
Joe was quiet and self-effacing. It was only when I was researching this story some thirty years later that I discovered that he had been in the Air Force during World War II, had piloted 37 missions over Germany and received six oak leaf clusters. This was not the kind of thing he would ever mention.
One year, in the early 1970s, three other guys and myself entered a men’s bonspiel in Hershey and we drove down in the dead of winter where we were joined by teams from around the Northeast.
It was there that I really got to know Joe Eby and how his life had been changed by the magnificent vision of Milton and Catherine Hershey—a legacy that endures to this day.
Hershey Chocolate Company
In 1876, Milton Hershey started a candy company in Philadelphia, but it failed six years later. At the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, he got hooked on chocolate and bought some German candy-making machinery and had it shipped back to Pennsylvania. After much experimentation, Hershey figured out the formula for making milk chocolate—a secret process known only to the Swiss at the time. He started the Hershey Chocolate Company and the rest is history.