Derry Church is blessed by the many people who make up our church family. In addition to their roles and leadership at church, they have often played important roles in the growth and development of the larger Hershey community. Hershey Community Archives’ oral history collection holds interviews with many Derry Presbyterian Church members. These interviews provide information about their lives and contributions to Derry and the community. Thanks to elder and Archives Director Pam Whitenack, who edited Earl’s oral history for this week’s message.
November 15, 2018
Born and raised in Campbelltown, Earl Spangler worked for The Hershey Company for his entire career. He rose through the ranks to serve as president of the Hershey Chocolate Company, retiring in 1984. With such an illustrious career, it might be easy to forget the boy and man behind his professional success.
Earl was the third of five children born to Abner and Beulah Spangler. After attending Campbelltown Grammar School, Earl attended Hershey High School, graduating in 1940. Earl remembered feeling out of place when he first started high school.
That was quite an experience, because we were considered country hicks when we came from Campbelltown up to Hershey High School. As a matter of fact, we didn't even wear the proper apparel. I was wearing corduroy knickers that had been patched frequently on the knees. We didn't quite fit in when we first arrived at Hershey High School.
Earl excelled academically, was a member of the Science Club and the Political History Club, sang in several vocal groups, and played baseball and football. While most extracurricular activities were held during school hours, sports practice was held after school. This created a challenge for Earl, who relied on the Hershey trolley to get to and from school. He shared this challenge in his oral history interview:
But going out for football was a drudgery, because we used to practice over on the field adjacent to what is now the Hershey Park. Practice used to last until 6:00, 6:15, and we had to run all the way back to high school to take a shower. Nine times out of ten, I would just miss the streetcar which was going back to Campbelltown, and that would have been an additional hour's wait. So many, many times after football practice and after the shower, I would run home to Campbelltown, about three, three and a half mile, and Mother would still have dinner warming up on the coal stove waiting for me, because they long since had had their dinner.
Following graduation, Earl attended the Hershey Junior College, which offered two years of free college education to Hershey High School graduates. Money was tight in the Spangler family and Earl probably wouldn’t have been able to attend college any other way. Earl graduated from the Junior College in 1942 and enrolled in Lebanon Valley College. However, the United States had entered World War II and after completing his first semester, Earl enlisted in the Navy. He spent his war service in the South Pacific on a LST (landing craft).
Following the war, the GI Bill enabled Earl to finish his college education with a B.S. in business administration. He married Trudy Reid, who was a friend and nursing school classmate of his younger sister. Trudy would visit the Spanglers on weekends with his sister. As Earl remembered,
So occasionally on weekends, my sister would bring Trudy along home for the weekend. Somehow or other, I could not avoid her. You know, she was there at our mother's dinner table, you know, and she's in our house. We developed a relationship and after about a year, we got married.
With a new wife, Earl felt the responsibility to find work quickly. His first full-time employment was with the Monarch Life Insurance Company, selling life insurance. It wasn’t a good fit. Earl looked for other opportunities and turned to Hershey.
He was hired as a clerk in the mechanical storeroom. While he might have been over-qualified, he needed a job and hoped that something else might become available in the future. His hard work, attention to detail and potential soon led to a new supervisory training program. He was promoted to a series of increasingly challenging production, managerial and executive positions in the company. In 1976 he was named President of the Hershey Chocolate Company.
Earl actually hesitated before accepting the newly created position of company president. In his interview he related the story of being offered the new position:
Mr. Dearden and Mr. Zimmerman called me into their office and they told me that they had selected me to become president of the Chocolate Company.
I said, "President of Hershey Chocolate Company?" That entailed running all the Chocolate Company. I was a bit overwhelmed and astounded. I was really overtaken, you know, that they would consider me. I told them that, "Boy, I need a lot of time to think this one over." Again, they said, "Well, take a few days, but we have to know."
I took a week and I hadn't been back to them, so I got called in again. In the meantime, I had been pacing the floor at home at three in the morning, trying to discern what this would entail and whether I really felt as though I had the qualifications to do the job. I was always one who believes that one should work and live within his limitations, and when you get beyond those, you not only cause trouble for yourself, but you cause trouble for other people. I was seriously contemplating whether or not I could handle the job.
They became impatient, and they really wanted to know.
Nevertheless, I went for broke and I came home wondering why I had even told them I would take it, because I was also told, you know, that if I don't succeed, there's no place to go, you know. [Laughter] And that's a bit frightening, because I had been quite happy in my other career activities over there. But nevertheless, I accepted the job with a lot of reservations mentally in my own mind, but I said, "Well, we'll give it a go and we'll give it everything we've got.” That's how that started. I must say I reluctantly accepted at that time.
In spite of his initial concerns, Earl quickly proved himself up to the job. During his tenure, he successfully led the company through challenges, including national wage and price freezes, significant new product development, and fierce competition from the confectionery industry. Throughout it all, Earl was known for his loyalty to Hershey, his humility, his storytelling, good nature and support of his employees. He trusted his employees and was able to admit when he was wrong.
One of my favorite stories was one Earl related about Hershey’s new product, Reese’s Pieces and its connection to the movie “E.T.” Click to listen to this four-minute clip.
To read Earl’s entire Hershey Archives transcript, click here.