When Jo Hershey Selden began The Hershey Foundation in 1986, she sought to honor her late husband, Alvin A. Hershey, through philanthropic deeds in support of their community.
Both Al and Jo lived their entire lives in the Cleveland area. Al was a devoted husband and father who had a successful career in the insurance industry as a general agent and company executive. In 1964, he acquired a small Ohio-based insurance company and, with the help of Jo and the children, began to develop the family business. Following Al's death at age 58 in 1974, his son, Barry J. Hershey, continued the family dream, building the nation-wide Capitol American Financial Corporation into an industry leader. In 1992, he took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange. When the company was sold in 1997, the Foundation's resources were greatly enhanced.
Jo successfully combined a career in the family business with an active life as wife, mother, and grandmother; yet she always found time and resources to support Cleveland's civic, cultural and religious organizations. The establishment of The Hershey Foundation simply formalized a well-established philanthropic tradition.
At first, Jo used the Foundation primarily as a vehicle for distributing annual gifts. She had a passion for the arts which she passed on to her children, along with her feeling of responsibility for supporting the city's cultural institutions. Her interest in education was heightened by her grandchildren's experiences in Montessori schools. She saw the benefits of Maria Montessori's educational philosophy and directed considerable support to Montessori schools in Cleveland.
After Jo's death, by her design, management of the Foundation passed to her children Debra Hershey Guren, Carole Hershey Walters and Loren W. Hershey. They have honored and extended the philanthropic goals Jo established in her lifetime. Montessori education has remained a funding focus, as have other innovative education programs, especially those embodying Maria Montessori's child-centered approach to learning. Maintaining opportunities for all children to be engaged in the arts and stimulated by the sciences has been a continuing priority. The trustees have shown particular interest in providing start-up support for innovative children's programming, often serving as the catalyst for additional funding.