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Hershey retires from Appo, leaves lasting impression on school district

Amanda Parrish
Middletown Transcript

ODESSA -- Fourteen buildings, 10 renovations and $815 million. Bob Hershey oversaw the construction projects that occurred during the Appoquinimink School District's fastest growing years.

At the end of August, Hershey retired after spending more than 20 years with the district.

When he started working for Appo in 1997, fewer than 3,000 students were in the district. Since then, enrollment has quadrupled in size to more than 12,000. Hershey has been a part of every one of those buildings that gave each of those students a place to learn, grow and make memories.

The carpenter by trade knows what he has been able to accomplish is incredible, but he is humble in accepting the accolades. He emphasized he was not the sole person to make these projects happen. Erin Riley, Calvin Suggs, Andy Walton and many others were right by his side during every single one of these projects.

“One person cannot have enough mileage to do everything that is involved with something like this,” he said.

School officials, friends and coworkers he has met during his time at Appo saw Hershey as a respectful, kind and smart man who has left a lasting impression on the district.

Hershey’s career

After leaving the army in 1975, the West Grove, Pennsylvania native spent the first two decades of his working life as a carpenter.

Bob Hershey stands in front of the main entrance of the Fairview Campus in Townsend, just two weeks before he retired from the Appoquinimink School District.

His first job was changing and tires on tractor trailers before going to work for J.R. Coldiron & Sons in Wilmington from 1976-94, working on and managing construction projects such as Three Christina Centre.

He was laid off from Coldiron & Sons and went to work temporarily for Colonial School District doing inspections. The day his contract was up, he was offered a job doing the same work for the new Middletown High School.

From that day on, Appoquinimink became his home.

He said without his background in managing hotels and high-rise building construction, he couldn’t have stepped into his role at Appo.

“The things that have happened to me, in regard to working in the construction industry, I can probably prove God exists just by my job opportunities,” he said. “God's plan was, ‘Spend 20 years doing this Bob, so you can spend the next 20 years doing what you're doing now.’”

A respected man

Cyndi Clay, a retired educator, met Hershey when she was a principal at Silver Lake Elementary during the first few years of his time with the district.

She said what made Hershey stand out is his strong work ethic and high standards he wants for himself and others.

“He expects a lot of himself, but he expects a lot with whom he works,” she said. “He just has an amazing heart. Bob comes as off as a little rough around the edges when you talk with him, but he is real and is good to people.”

Jerry Doherty, president of EDiS, echoed much of what Clay said, describing him as fair, loyal and respectful to the people he works with.

EDiS has helped with many of the school district construction projects, and Doherty has known Hershey since they worked on Olive B. Loss Elementary School together.

He said Hershey doesn’t leave his tool belt at work. He’s always lending a hand to others.

“Building, repairing, remodeling for himself and his extended family,” he said. “He loves to participate … He is always the first guy to raise his hand to offer help.”

Hershey said his wife is an incredible interior decorator, but he helps bring her vision to reality. .

Matt Burrows was a principal when he met Bob Hershey for the first time. Knowing him during his three years as a principal and now as the superintendent of the school district, he sees how passionate he is about the work he does.

“He is always willing to help where he can help. He represents the interests of the district well and makes sure it gets the best it can get. He is very dedicated and loyal,” the superintendent said.

Clay doesn’t just admire him for his knowledge of construction, but she described him as “an amazing person” and considers him a friend.

“When we weren’t having work conversations, we would have conversations about life, family and children and politics and religion,” she said. “While we didn't always agree, I know I learned from him. He is so smart.”

“Our families kind of crossed paths because Bob is a hunter and fisherman and an outdoorsy person, and so is my family. My sons and husband all admire Bob a lot,” she said.

Hershey said he has liked to hunt and fish since he was 6 years old. It was something he enjoyed with his grandfather.

“It's something I love to do. It reminds me of him,” he said

His final project

Burrows said the Fairview Campus near Odessa will be the first K-12 campus in the state of Delaware, and he views it as a capstone project for Hershey.

Fairview Campus is expected to be finished later this month. Pictured is Fairview Campus in August.

The 272-acre site already includes Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center and Old State Elementary while Cantwell’s Bridge Middle School, Odessa High School and athletic fields are in the finishing stages.

The retired construction manager said this is one of the biggest projects he has ever worked on. Seeing a project of this magnitude come to fruition is what he enjoyed most about his job.

“At the end of the day, you can see what used to be an open corn field turn into a first-of-its-kind complex in the state of Delaware,” he said.

Hershey said he planned to leave a few years earlier, but he promised the district he would stay until the campus was done, which he said would be later this month.

‘Old school’ meets new tech

Keeping up with the technology advancements has not been a problem for Hershey, Burrows said. He is always considering how education is evolving and putting those facets into every project.

Clay said he has always listened to what educators need and putting them into action.

“Not only is he good with his job, but he also knows about what is required [for classrooms]. He knows what it takes for teachers to teach and for learners to learn.”

Doherty said Hershey describes himself as an “old school guy,” but Doherty thinks he knows just as much about modern technology as anyone.

“He loves the moniker of ‘old school’ because of coming up through the [carpentry] trade, he knows what doing things right the first time means. He has carried that old school philosophy through all the buildings in Appo,” he said. “He is head and shoulders above many of his peers. As new technology comes along, he figures out what works best for the district.”

As he walked around the Fairview Campus construction site Aug. 13, his passion for making sure students have the technology needed to succeed was clear, as he showed off SMART Boards and the state-of-the-art theater.

The campus will have options for students to get real-world experience inside the schools, like running a cafe, and he said they will be “better off” because of it.

Saying goodbye

The Appoquinimink Board of Education recognized Hershey’s retirement at an August meeting with a gift of pieces of turf from each football stadium in the district. 

Board President Richard Forsten said the district was lucky to have him lead these projects for the past 20 years.

“He has been innovative and proactive,” Forsten said. “He has taken pride in his work and always gone above and beyond. He has left some big shoes to fill, and we will miss him.”

Hershey’s departure will be a big loss, Burrows said, but he is happy for whatever Hershey’s next journey is.

“I am always excited for people who have had very successful careers and they have the opportunity to retire and spend time with their families and focus on their hobbies and the things they love,” Burrows said.

EDiS is planning a retirement party for Hershey once it is safe to do so.

Hershey said he feels relieved to be retiring. He has loved what he has done, but he is looking forward to what comes next.

“I have had people talk to me about consulting. I wouldn't mind doing that, but I don't want to be responsible. I don't want to have to lie awake at night like I do now,” he said. “I've been entrusted by a school district for more than 20 years. I have enjoyed doing it, but I will enjoy it when I stop doing it.”