Dec 14, 2010

Degrees of Connection

Six Degrees of Separation has become so common place a concept that it is now quite influential in popular culture and daily life, but for the sake of completeness in this post, I shall include a small portion of the history.  This theoretical concept that any of us is, on average, only six steps away from any other human on Earth in our "human web" of life was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy and popularized by a play written by John Guare.

Are we really so connected by friends and friends of friends?

I have found it to be quite true over the course of my adult life.  As an example, in playing the popular game to determine my "Kevin Bacon number", I discovered that I have a Bacon number of 4.  How?

I sang with Jennifer Miller in The Blessing
who sang with Julie Andrews in a Radio City Music Hall production
who acted with Karen Vaccaro in Unconditional Love
who acted with Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echos

I've also learned that I have a connection to Bob Hope via my husband, who in his youth happened to have a small chat with Mr. Hope in the rest room during a Washington DC fund-raising dinner.

These are silly examples to be sure, but illustrate the point, that as unlikely as it seems, there are connections to be made out there with the famous, the infamous, and the not-so-famous. 

My most treasured connections are those that are discovered to have some meaning in my life.  Something like this just happened to me this weekend, and it has been so much on my mind that I would like to share it with you.

I have made no secret of the fact that I live in the Hershey, PA area.  As you might imagine, The Hershey Company and Trust dominate the region.  Milton S. Hershey was born here in the farmlands of central Pennsylvania and returned to his roots here as a young entrepreneur making milk chocolate.  He built this town; built it for the workers for his factory.

In 1898, he married Catherine "Kitty" Sweeney.  The two of them were unable to have children, but being desirous of helping as many children as possible, they established the Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys.  Kitty died in 1915 and in 1918, Hershey transferred the majority of his assets, including control of the company, to the Milton Hershey School Trust fund, to benefit the Industrial School. The Trust, as it has come to be known,  has a majority of voting shares in The Hershey Company, allowing it to keep control of the company.  In 1951, the school was renamed the Milton Hershey School, and now admits both boys and girls.  They no longer need be orphans, but all must meet the need requirements set forth by The Trust and school.
 Milton and Kitty 

Mr. Hershey took great pride in the growth of the school, the town, and his business. He placed the quality of his product and the well-being of his workers ahead of profits.

 With this ideal in mind, in 1963 Mr. Sam Hinkle, the President of Hershey Chocolate Company, made a phone call to the Penn State University President, Mr. Eric Walker.  This phone call has been dubbed the $50 Million Phone Call.  Mr. Hinkle proposed that Penn State establish a School of Medicine and Medical Center with a starting donation of $50M from The Trust.

Mr. Hinkle and Mr. Walker recreate the $50 Million Phone Call

And with this phone call the wheels were set in motion for a world class Medical Center, School of Medicine and Research Center. With this phone call the steps were built for the care and growth of a community.  With this phone call the first building blocks were laid for my, and my family's, future.

So by now you are wondering, what the connection I have been referencing actually is.  I was approached by our local church to sing at a funeral this past weekend.  I do this sometimes - and weddings, too.  I was pleased to be able to assist even though I was unaware of the family who was coming in from out of state to celebrate a service of memorial in the chapel where their family had so long ago worshiped (from the 1950s through the 1980s).

The setting was lovely.  Our chapel built in the mid-1800s lit by candlelight, which reflected off the well polished dark red wood felt comforting. Christmas wreaths and advent candles and a cross made from hundreds of dusky pink roses representing the woman whose life we celebrated added to the warmth in the cold of the winter evening.

During the remembrances of family and long-time friends, I came to discover that this woman, who died after 102 years on this earth of ours, was the widow of Mr. Sam Hinkle.  The celebrated President of the Hershey Chocolate Company, and who felt so strongly about central Pennsylvania having an academic medical center and school of medicine, that he convinced The Trust and the Pennsylvania State University, that they should build it - together - with $50 million donated by the company that essentially brought the town to life.


I was asked to sing The Lords PrayerI was asked to comfort, and perhaps uplift, this grieving family (3 generations of them) of the woman, who stood by her husband through his life, his business dealings, and his own long illness.  The woman who helped her husband bring the dream of Penn State Hershey Medical Center to life before I was even born.  The woman whose work alongside her husband indirectly provided professional work opportunities, income, and satisfaction for my husband and me.

I am deeply affected by this connection.  And I am honored to have played a small role in the life of this family.  It seems the least that I could have done.


Rowan Derryth said...

This is so beautiful. Wonderful.