Memorial Field

Memorial Field is located in the heart of Hershey's residential community, ca1950-1960
Memorial Field is located in the heart of Hershey's residential community, ca1950-1960
Planning for a community park
On a July day in 1944 Milton Hershey invited the Derry Township School Board (Harry L. Erdman, Amos F. Geesaman, William H. Dunbar, III, Dr. Wayne D. Stettler, Clayton C. Gingrich, Howard G. Shelley, Edward Stover and Raymond H. Koch, School Superintendent), to a luncheon at his home in the Hershey Country Club. After lunch, he proposed a project to create a large athletic field for the 1900 or more students of the grade school, the junior-senior high school and Hershey Junior College. He wanted the athletic field to be a living memorial for the men from Derry Township who gave their lives defending their country in World War I and World War II and dedicated to the living veterans of these wars. His vision was for Memorial Field to serve as a recreational area that would be more centrally located for the community than Hershey Park.

Based on official studies and recommendations for public school play space, the School Board first proposed that Memorial Field cover 36 acres. The Board envisioned providing space and fields for a variety of sports including: archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, bowling green clock golf cricket, croquet, deck tennis, field ball, field hockey, football, handball, horseshoes, lacrosse, quoits, soccer, softball, speedball, touch football and volley ball.

Milton Hershey had considered the idea for some time. After giving the school project much thought, he decided to give the School District 18.25 acres of a farm located south of the then current school buildings (today the Granada Avenue School Complex). At the time the land was owned jointly by Hershey Estates and Hershey Industrial School (now Milton Hershey School).

Memorial Field moves from idea to reality
Work on Memorial Field did not get started until after Milton Hershey's death. In the fall of 1946, funded by income derived from the Milton Hershey Testamentary Trust, grading of the athletic fields and seeding permanent grasses was completed. Memorial Field would not be dedicated for two years to permit the grass to become well established.

During the summer of 1947 three hard surface tennis courts were added. In addition, that same year plans for the future development of the park were announced. Plans called for several new additions to Memorial Field in 1948. These new additions included a practice football field, an area for field hockey, two softball and one hardball diamonds, a quarter mile track and a 3.5 acre children's playground. The playground layout included a jungle gym, slides, swing sets, seesaws, a wading pool for little children, horizontal ladders and a merry-go-round.

On Saturday, June 12, 1948 Memorial Field was formally dedicated. Robert E. Woodside, judge of the Dauphin County Juvenile Court, was the featured speaker. John H. Treder, Vicar of All Saints Episcopal Church, gave the invocation. The dedication program included athletic events for people of all ages. Morning competitions preceded the formal ceremony beginning at 1:45 p.m. After the program concluded, baseball games and tennis matches were held the rest of the afternoon.

That same summer John R. Finley, a student majoring in community recreation at Penn State, was hired to be the playground director, assisted by Lee Anne Wagner, a Penn State graduate. The summer program included various types of games in the morning for elementary students, high school groups in the afternoon and activities for adults in the evening. The program included arts and crafts, tennis tournaments, pitching horseshoes, a church softball league, folk and square dances, talent shows, hobby exhibitions and a circus at the end of the season. Instruction was given in field hockey, tennis, volleyball, softball and other games. On rainy days programs were held in the basement of the grade school. The recreational summer program continued for several years.

Hotel Hershey Highlights articles published in 1947 and 1948 state that the School District hoped to add more facilities to enhance Memorial Field in the future. Plans included building an outdoor basketball court, a place to play quoits and horseshoes, a building with toilet facilities and a place for equipment storage. Other ideas for Memorial Field included building a reading room for a children's story time, and a grandstand for track and field events with dressing rooms and showers under the stands. They also envisioned adding lights for night games. The articles also noted the School District's desire for support from local organizations.

Support from community organizations
In 1947, in response to this appeal, the Servicemen's Gift Committee of Derry Township reworked a quarry pit on the land with the goal of creating a picnic area where roasts could be held and donated roasting ovens. Also in 1947, Hershey Rotary Club donated $3000, the proceeds from the Cocoa Bean games, an annual game between Hershey Industrial School and Hershey High School first played in 1943.

Since that beginning, Hershey Rotary Club has designated the proceeds of the Cocoa Bean game for the support of Memorial Field. This fund is used for the maintenance and improvement of the Memorial Field facilities, which are available to all Derry Township residents. Today Memorial Field includes five tennis courts, an outdoor basketball court, a lighted baseball field, softball fields, a football field, a track, two service buildings, picnic pavilion and shuffleboard courts.

Over the years the Memorial Field Fund has supported a number of major improvements including resurfacing the basketball and tennis courts, construction of a field house adjacent to the picnic pavilion, re-roofing the pavilion, the construction of an exercise trail and the purchase of new picnic tables.