Judy Hess has lovely memories of childhood in Hershey, named for the famous chocolate company where her father worked in the Hershey Foods power plant. She would see the renowned founder — Milton Hershey — driving around town.
“Mr. Hershey believed that everything he did was for his workers,” she says. “He was a very forward-looking man, a very bright man. Hershey was a wonderful place to grow up. I think we were really very spoiled.”
Today, Judy is a resident of Homeland Center, where she marvels at the professionalism of the staff and the meticulous upkeep of the building. She should know because she spent a career in nursing, trying new experiences whenever she had the chance.
Looking back on her youth, Judy remembers Mr. Hershey’s majestic movie palace, the Hershey Theatre, with its famous ceiling.
“When you sat down and watched movies, you could look up and see clouds and stars overhead,” Judy says. Then as now, Broadway touring companies would come through, and Judy saw all the shows, including the Rodgers & Hammerstein blockbuster, “South Pacific.”
In Hershey, she met her future husband – Paul Hess – who was her classmate from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We never dated at all in high school,” she says. “Never once. But we did walk down the aisle together at graduation.”
They walked down the aisle together as husband and wife after he came home on leave from the Navy at the end of World War II. Judy was in town as well, on vacation from nursing school.
“We had one date, and he asked me to marry him, and I said yes,” she says of the answer that launched their 61-year marriage as a shell-shocked world sighed in relief that the fighting had ended. “We both decided that we were war-weary. It lasted a long time.”
Judy’s contribution to World War II made a lasting impression on her life. She had dreamed of becoming a teacher, but she joined the United States Cadet Nurse Corps when the war started.
The Nurse Corps was founded in 1943 to provide free nursing education for civilian nurses to fill the home-front posts as experienced nurses joined the military.
“I still tell people I’m tired from those three years,” jokes Judy. “I never worked so hard in my entire life.”
Judy served at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, where she and her fellow student nurses cared for patients and attended classes without fail – even after working 12-hour night shifts.
“It was a tough life – but worth it,” Judy says.
The young nursing students shared a house where they had a 10 p.m. curfew. With the intensity of the experience, the group stayed in touch for the rest of their lives.
“When we had reunions, we would always say the same thing,” she says. “It was hard, but we would not have wanted to have missed it.”
That experience launched a fulfilling career in nursing. For many years, her nursing jobs “moved with me” as she and Paul traveled for his Navy career, from which he retired as a captain. While Paul was working on his doctorate at the University of Delaware, Judy served as head nurse for the university’s Student Health Center.
Following the Navy, Paul became a respected environmental scientist and retired as the Hershey Foods Corporation environmental affairs department director.
Judy’s career also came full circle when the Hess family returned to Hershey, and she enjoyed 15 years as a school nurse for the nearby Annville-Cleona School District. One summer, she also worked in the psychiatric ward of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (now Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center).
Judy and Paul had a daughter, Paula. While Paul conducted research at the University of Delaware Marine Science Center in Lewes, the family spent many summers in that quiet seashore town, watching boats come and go on the Intercoastal Waterway. Sometimes, Paul would say, “I’m going to take Judy on a cruise.”
“And we would take the ferry over to New Jersey,” she says, laughing.
Judy arrived in Homeland Center’s skilled care unit in spring 2021. She has visited many nursing homes in her life, “and this is by far the nicest one I have ever been in. I don’t think there are very many that could compare to this.”
“It’s a wonderful place,” she says. “It’s bright, and it’s cheery, and they keep everything in such good repair. I am amazed at how well appointed it is. Everything is just as you would want it to be.”