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 Church members. These interviews provide information about their lives and contributions to Derry and the community. Thanks to elder and retired Archives Director Pam Whitenack, who compiled Lee’s history for this week’s message.
Daniel Lee Backenstose was born in Schaefferstown in 1915. He grew up in a farming community, often helping his grandfather with a wide variety of farming chores.
Lee attended Penn State University, graduating in 1936 with a degree in agricultural education. That same year, he was hired as Derry Township’s teacher of agriculture. In 1942 he was drafted by the army and served four years in Europe both in combat and later with the Army Judge Advocate’s division.
Seeing soldiers wounded during the war greatly influenced Lee’s plans for his future. While he had not had the financial resources before the war, the G.I Bill opened the door for Lee to pursue a medical education. He attended Jefferson Medical School, graduating in 1951. Interested in private practice, Lee considered establishing an office in Hershey or in Lebanon. He met with Jim Bobb, manager of the Milton Hershey School Farm Division, who encouraged him to set up an office in Hershey. While initially slow, the practice gradually grew. Lee saw patients in his Hershey office, and for additional income, also assisted a surgeon at the Lebanon Sanitorium on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Lee also remembered,
In those days, I had some patients at Lebanon, I had some here in the Hershey Hospital, and I was on the Harrisburg Hospital staff. At times I used to visit all three places in one day.
His practice also included delivering babies at Hershey, Harrisburg and Lebanon hospitals as well as home deliveries.
Lee was ambitious and blessed with boundless energy. In addition to his private practice, he also served as the HERCO (now Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company) doctor, including caring for the Hershey Bears, the Medical Director of Milton Hershey School (1968-82) and shared weekend duty and covered vacations for the chocolate company doctor.
When the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center opened, Lee opted to not join its medical staff, whose doctors were paid employees. He preferred the independence of his private practice. However, when Charles and Irma Millard established the Four Diamonds Fund in honor of their son, Christopher, following his death from cancer in 1972, the Medical Center asked Lee to serve as the first chair of the Fund. The Four Diamonds’ mission was to provide financial assistance to children battling cancer at the Hershey Medical Center.
A critical step in making the Fund successful was Lee’s efforts to engage the Penn State Interfraternity Council (IFC) in raising monies for the Four Diamonds fund. As Lee related in his oral history, he worked with Herbert Kraybill, from the Penn State gifts and endowments office. At the time, they were competing with other charities to get the IFC to lend their services to the Four Diamonds Fund.
And in those days it was really a touch-and-go, because you had multiple sclerosis and the Leukemia Society and everything else that were trying to get those students to lend their efforts and their performance to their cause. So we were really in competition up there a number of years before we established our dominance in having the Interfraternity Council put all their efforts behind the Four Diamond Fund down at Hershey… This year  the IFC may have raised $600,000 for the Four Diamond Fund. It turned into a tremendous thing that we started. At the beginning we started with something like $50,000. That was the IFC goal. Now the IFC is up at $600,000 a year. It’s the biggest fundraiser we ever had. They raised a tremendous amount of money for the Four Diamond Fund. We couldn’t do what we’re doing today if we wouldn’t have the benefit of the Interfraternity Council from Penn State.
[Before the IFC involvement] in those early days, I used to go around to Lions Clubs and 4-H Clubs and give talks for benefiting the Four Diamonds to raise a dollar here and a dollar there, something like that, talk to schools and all that kind of business, which isn’t even done today anymore. But that was the beginning. That’s where we started. And look where we are now. Whew!
In 2022, the IFC THON raised $13,756,375.
To read the entire transcript of Lee Backenstose’s interview, click here.
Fun fact #1: Lee and Dottie Backenstose (pictured) were the parents of Derry member Amy Backenstose and grandparents of Auggie, Grace, Mavis, and Georgia.
Fun fact #2: Did you know that another Derry member has a connection to the origin story of the Four Diamonds Fund/THON? Click here to read the article first published in the Derry Church eNews in 2013.