Semisweet: An Orphan's Journey Through the School the Hersheys Built

Semisweet: An Orphan's Journey Through the School the Hersheys Built

by Johnny O'Brien


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The Milton Hershey School is the richest and wealthiest K-12 residential school in the world. Its $12 billion trust fund, financed by sales of the iconic Hershey candy, eclipse that of Cornell, Dartmouth, and Johns Hopkins combined. Even more stunning is that the school for orphans owns The Hershey Company and not the other way around.

As the twentieth-century drew to a close, the School’s Board of Managers creatively interpreted the Founder’s mission and tried to turn the refuge for extremely needy children into more of a middle-class boarding school. The alumni “Homeguys” challenged the Board and, after a decade of legal struggle and national publicity, won the battle to reclaim the soul of the school.

Johnny O’Brien, an orphan who lived at the school growing up, helped to lead the successful alumni protest. In a shocking turn of events, he was then selected to become Milton Hershey School’s eighth president and tasked with restoring the mission, morale, and character-building culture of “the Home.” He would need all his orphan resilience, Princeton and Johns Hopkins wisdom, and his good friends, to transform this unusual and remarkable school.

In a riveting and haunting account, O’Brien tells a universal story about the vulnerability of needy children, describes the madness that consumed his beloved brother, explores the cruelty of bullies—both young and old, exposes the corrupting influence of money, and shows how the Milton Hershey School continues its sacred mission of saving thousands of America’s neediest children.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442275843
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 09/14/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 220
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Johnny O’Brien is the former president of the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. He spent his formative years from age 4 through 18 as a student at the School where he emerged as a leader of his Class of 1961 in sports, academics, and student government. He earned degrees in psychology and education at Princeton and Johns Hopkins Universities. Throughout his career, which includes serving as a Princeton University Trustee, he has specialized in education and issues related to leadership. He founded Renaissance Leadership, an executive leadership coaching firm, in 1978. He has been a keynote speaker, seminar leader and high performance coach for more than 50,000 managers and executives at leading American companies including Pfizer, AT&T, and American Express. He lives in Easton, Maryland and Vero Beach, Florida with his wife Gail.

Table of Contents

1: Marching Home
2: Abandoned
3: The Founders
4: Barnyard Jungle
5: Frankie’s Story
6: Going over the Wall
7: MHS Loses its Way
8: Meltdown in Chocolatetown
9: The Restoration of Mr. Hershey’s Vision
10: The Politics of Righting the Ship
11: The Circle Closes
12: Lessons Learned

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Semisweet : An Orphan's Journey Through the School the Hersheys Built 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some stories are interesting, some stories are entertaining, and some stories just need to be told. Johnny O'Brien's story in "Semisweet" is one of those that need to be told. His story is a triumph of the human spirit in every way. It is a story not just of survival, but of overcoming significant obstacles to become in every way a successful, caring and accomplished person, who has given back to the very institution that both encouraged and encumbered him in his formative years.. I am privileged to be his teammate, classmate and long life friend starting with our first meeting at an all-star football game the summer before we both went to Princeton. I had some knowledge of the heartbreak that Johnny experienced in his years at the Milton Hershey School, but his book brings into even greater clarity the hardships of his journey starting with the sense of abandonment, the loss of his brother,  and his ability to overcome significant obstacles along the way to success. The book is an easy read and a great story. The actual person of Johnny O'Brien is even better.