John Hershey Rawley • 1925-2002

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 retired Archives Director Pam Whitenack, who compiled John’s history for this week’s message.

Born into a military family, John Rawley spent much of his youth traveling and living around the United States and in the Philippines and Panama as his father was posted to new assignments. He spent every summer with his father’s parents who lived in Philadelphia and had a home in Avalon, New Jersey. His mother’s father, John Hershey, also lived in Philadelphia. While not related to Milton Hershey, his grandfather was a Hershey and as a boy John Rawley recalled attending two Hershey family reunions in Hershey, PA.

Immediately after graduating high school, John enlisted and served as a pilot during World War II, flying B29s and later B26s during the Korean conflict. In 1950, John married Linda Murray. After his discharge from service in Korea, John went to work for the Scott Paper Company, and held a variety of sales management positions. In 1964 he was serving as the company’s director of marketing.

One day in 1964, John Rawley got a letter from Bill Dearden, then Hershey Chocolate vice-president for sales, inviting him to come meet Bill in Hershey if he ever happened to be in the area. John related the story in his 1991 oral history interview:

So I got a letter from Bill Dearden one day, if I was in Hershey–this was in 1964–if I’d stop in to visit him, that they were considering starting a marketing department. As it happened, I was doing something with a task force that the governor had on business and government, and I had to go to Harrisburg. 

So I called and made an appointment. It was on a Thursday that I was going to come up, because I had to be in Harrisburg on Friday, and I thought, “Well, I’ll stop in and meet Mr. Dearden.” On Thursday morning, it turned out that I had to change my plans, so I called and cancelled that appointment. 

Shortly after lunch that day, a business associate of mine from Scott Paper Company called me and said, “John, I met a really remarkable man today at St. Joseph’s College.” I said, “Is that right?” He said, “Yeah. You’re going to meet him tomorrow. His name is Bill Dearden.” I said, “Vern, I cancelled that appointment.” He said, “John, don’t cancel it. Find a way to meet this man. It’ll be a very special experience for you.” So I called back and I said that I was able to come on Friday, and I then came up and met Bill that day. I met Harold [Mohler] and I met Gil Nurick. Gil was on Hershey’s board of directors. Three weeks later, I sold my home and moved to Hershey.

The Rawley connection to Derry happened quickly after they moved here.

We developed, immediately upon coming to Hershey, a close affiliation with the Derry Presbyterian Church, which is right adjacent to us, as a family, and became very active in the programs for that church. I served as an elder and a trustee in the church for a number of years, and our kids, we found, got great strength from our Christian friends there, as well as from Ira Reed, who was the minister at that time.

John had a daunting assignment at Hershey Chocolate. He was charged with establishing the company’s first marketing department. Hershey Chocolate was widely known for being a wildly successful brand that had achieved its success without the benefit of consumer marketing, but rather on the strength and quality of its products. As John described it, the company’s sales division was operating much as it had during Milton Hershey’s lifetime.

For the first four years, a very significant part of my energies was directed to the sales organization–restructuring it; introducing modern techniques of selling; identifying our customers; developing a reservoir of knowledge to build a sales organization, because you could not possibly invest in advertising and more sophisticated promotion unless you had a sales organization that had the capacity to implement those plans in the field.

To build the department, John recruited some of his colleagues from Scott Paper, a few of whom also became part of the Derry family, including Vern (and Joyce) Tessier. Vern Tessier was the person who had urged him to not cancel his appointment with Bill Dearden. 

John retired from Hershey Foods Corporation in 1991 after having held several positions with the company including Director of Marketing, Director of Strategic Planning and finally Assistant to the CEO, Dick Zimmerman.