On Friday, the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools hosted its annual Partners in Education – State of Our Schools breakfast.
This year is special because the breakfast honored Jack Thomas’s donation of $1.6 million, the largest donation the foundation has ever received.
The story started back in 1909 when the Milton Hershey School was founded in Pennsylvania.
Hershey, the man who came up with the iconic chocolate bar, donated his entire fortune to this school for students in search of opportunities.
Jack Thomas was one of the alumni of that school. He graduated in 1939, took advantage of his education there, and was able to amass a large fortune. He left $1.6 million to the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools upon his death in 2022.
Thomas moved to Lee County after he retired and had already donated $250,000 to the foundation throughout the years, but he wanted to continue giving back to students in the same way he was helped, giving him the resources to better his life. Specifically, Thomas left the money to the Take Stock in Children program for low-income youth who have risk factors in their life.
The program helps set those kids on the right track and gives them a four-year college tuition scholarship.
“He learned about the program… he said, ‘Wow, that’s what happened to me; at the Hershey School, I had some people that really cared for me,'” said Marshall Bower, president and CEO of the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools. “He was an orphan and they took care of him and gave him every opportunity to succeed. And so he said, ‘I want to do that, too.’ He did it in the memory of his wife, who was an educator. His daughter is also an educator. And so, obviously, he holds education very close to his heart.”
“The young people that are going to receive Jack’s gift, their life will be transformed forever,” said Peter Gurt, president of the Hershey School. “And it’s not just their life, but their family’s lives will be transformed forever. So this small gift will have a ripple effect throughout generations.”