The Herald-Mail's Person of the Year

John R. Hershey Jr. takes home this year's honor

John R. Hershey Jr. takes home this year's honor

January 01, 2006|By Andrew Schotz
(Page 2 of 2)

In a series of changes in jobs and affiliations, which he likened to free agency in baseball, Hershey went from one firm to a second to a third, which included some of the old partners from the first one.

When the last firm developed "operational problems," as he put it, Hershey and some colleagues sought a new firm to be a part of. In 1970, they saw George M. Ferris Jr. at Ferris & Co. in Washington, D.C.

Ferris recalls that he "wasn't terribly interested" in expanding into Western Maryland. Nonetheless, he followed Hershey back to Hagerstown, and was impressed.

"Back then, Jack Hershey was Mr. Hagerstown ...," he said. "He was very much a doer. He had seemed to touch everything in Hagerstown."


Ferris called Hershey "a tremendous expert on regional banks" during his 30 years with Ferris, Baker Watts, where he was a senior vice president.

"I'm really a value investor," Hershey said. "I like to buy stocks that someone will be interested (in) at higher prices."

The key, he said, was to anticipate when one bank was going to take over another. In a 25-year period, that happened 42 times, he said.

Here, Hershey's attitude is captured in the words of colorful former baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean, who said something like "It ain't bragging if you can back it up."

Hershey pointed to a set of six predictions about bank takeovers as part of a 1999 profile in The Herald-Mail. Four were taken over.

"The fundamentals that he followed (were) buy book value, buy persistent growth, buy consistently rising dividends, buy fund value, and then sit back and watch," John R. Hershey III, a senior vice president and branch manager for Ferris, Baker Watts, said of his father.

He said his father's slogan was "sit back and wait for the big pop," referring to a takeover.

The younger Hershey said he got a sense of his father's knowledge and conviction on Oct. 19, 1987. The stock market had crashed, but, that afternoon, Jack Hershey was sitting at his desk and putting in buy orders.

Just hearing Jack Hershey suggest a stock was reason enough to invest, longtime friend and client Dr. George Manger said. "I'd say, 'Jack, pick me up 1,000 shares, or more,'" Manger said.

"He's probably made more people rich in Hagerstown than any person ever," said Donovan Beachley Jr., the friend from way back.

Commitment: wife and family (and friends)

Jack and Anna, the parents of four children, will have been married for 58 years at the end of January.

"We have a lot of things in common," Anna said. "We grew up in the same neighborhood. We played Kick the Can together.

"We've had a good life. I respect Bear. That's my nickname for him, Teddy Bear."

Anna, who will be 79 in February, is sticking to her theory that Jack followed her to the Allentown, Pa., area when she went to college. Jack, whose college was in nearby Bethlehem, Pa., smiled when he heard it again.

Anna said they've survived together despite having opposite personalities. "I'm more laid-back. He's a go-getter," she said. "It's a good combination."

As diversified as his father's life was, John R. Hershey III said he never thought of him as "stretched." There always was time for Little League, a Baltimore Colts game or hunting.

The younger Hershey remembers his family traveling to far-off places together. They went to a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. They rode horses through the Grand Tetons. They saw Hawaii.

Wherever they went, within a few hours, his father had scooped up brochures, ready to fully plan the rest of the trip, John R. Hershey III said.

"He's an inveterate world traveler," Manger said. "He has been everywhere."

Many places the Hersheys have seen more than once. Russia three times. Scandinavia three times.

They did a 38-day cruise around Africa and another that took them to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and other countries.

Hershey animatedly told the story of a Nepal trip that included crawling along the ground to see a Bengal tiger. "On the way back, I said, 'Don't they travel in pairs? Where's the other one?'"

Out comes another crackle of laughter.

Hershey is continuing to travel despite a rough patch of ill health that started in 1998 with a four-way heart bypass. That was followed by rotator cuff surgery on each arm, two knee-replacement surgeries and the removal of a kidney. This past August, his gall bladder was removed.

"He's really motivated," said Donovan Beachley Jr., who started playing golf with Hershey about 50 years ago. "He doesn't let a little thing like that get in the way."

Hershey said he is back on the tennis court again every Saturday and still plays golf.

"He just keeps coming back," Manger said.

"He's so committed in everything he does," said Dr. Breese Dickinson, who started playing golf and tennis with Hershey in the 1960s.

"Don't just sit there. Do it," John R. Hershey III remembers hearing his father say while growing up.

Hershey is part of a poker group that started around 1955, too.

"It's about as competitive as you can get for a nickel and a dime," Beachley said.

Low-stakes gambling and high-stakes philanthropy.

The desire to go everywhere. Promoting education and physical fitness.

Those are the essence of the adult Jack Hershey.

"I thought about all that he's done for other people, whether it's family, business or community," John R. Hershey III said of nominating his father for Person of the Year.

"A person's contributions," Jack Hershey said, "should be time and talent and money. Or financial - that's a little softer word."

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