A medical school and teaching hospital in the center of Pennsylvania

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It's 1966 in our photograph, and Dr. George T. Harrell Jr., founding dean of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, surveys a model of the Medical Center facilities while the real thing takes shape in the background.

On Feb. 26, Penn State Hershey celebrates 50 years since its groundbreaking.

A college of medicine and teaching hospital had not even been on the horizon for Penn State in 1963, when representatives of the Hershey Trust, a philanthropic legacy of chocolate king Milton Hershey, requested a meeting with University President Eric Walker.

Samuel Hinkle, then-president of Hershey Chocolate Corp. and serving on both the board of the Hershey Trust and as a Trustee of Penn State, first made the proposal for a medical school between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In a later interview, he recalled: "My own conclusion was that he [Milton Hershey] was so interested in relieving human suffering, that he would certainly approve an idea where we could have a fine medical school and teaching hospital here."

Hinkle recounted the meeting with President Walker:

Eric, what would you say if we tried to start a medical school for Penn State here in Hershey?

He said, “Sam, you might as well save your breath, my time, and forget it. There isn’t a five-cent-piece to be had for a medical school either here or anywhere else in Pennsylvania for Penn State.”

I said, “Eric, what would you say if I told you we had $50 million for you to start with?”

His eyes popped and he said, “That would be different. I’ll take it up with my board.”  So he went back and the board approved, of course.

To oversee the task, Walker recruited Dr. Harrell, who also had served as founding dean of the medical school at the University of Florida.

The new Milton S. Hershey Medical Center of The Pennsylvania State University broke ground on Feb. 26, 1966. The College of Medicine opened its doors to the first class of students in 1967, and the Medical Center accepted its first patients in 1970.

Last Updated March 21, 2016