Oxford Area High School auditorium named in honor of James S. Herr
● By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Area School District has renamed the high school auditorium the James S. Herr Auditorium in honor of the founder of Herr Foods.
The Oxford School Board made the dedication official on Dec. 16 by unanimously passing a resolution in honor and recognition of Herr, who passed away at the age of 87 in 2012. His oldest son, James M. Herr was in attendance and thanked the school district for its action.
“It is such an honor, what you have done for dad,” he said. The chairman of Herr Foods added that if his father knew that the district was naming an auditorium after him he would have humbly said that many other people had done more to help the school district and he would ask why he was the one being honored.
Herr and his wife, Miriam, started a small potato chip company in Lancaster in 1946 when he was able to raise $1,750 for the initial investment on a business that generated about $30 a week in revenue. But Herr's persistence and business acumen set the company on a path toward steady growth. Herr purchased property in Nottingham and moved business operations there in 1951, and the company began producing a full line of snack foods, quickly becoming a regional leader in the snack food industry. Even as the business was growing year after year and its reach extended far beyond Chester County, the Herr family's ties to the local community only strengthened.
Herr himself was a resident of the school district for over 60 years, where he and his wife raised five children and saw their family grow to include 20 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.
School Board president Donna Arrowood read the resolution honoring Herr, which noted his strong support of the Oxford schools. Herr was lauded as “a constant advocate for providing greater opportunities for students, many of whom went on to long and successful careers as employees of Herr Foods.”
Herr was also a 12-year member of the Oxford School Board, including five years when he served as its president. For six years, he held a seat on the Chester County Board of School Directors.
The resolution also noted that he “had a long and distinguished record of service to the Oxford community as a pillar of the local economy and a supporter of his fellow businesspersons, our schools, local arts and recreation programs, and charitable organizations…”
Herr was a staunch advocate of small business, serving as a member and chairman of the board of the National Federation of Independent Business and as the president of the Interstate Drilling Company. He also served for five years on the board of directors of the Worldwide Economic Development Team, working hand-in-hand with aspiring African entrepreneurs, and one year as the international president of the Potato Chip and Snack Food Association, which inducted him into its Circle of Honor. In 1969, the Small Business Administration selected him as the Outstanding Pennsylvania Businessman of the Year. In 1997, Herr was recognized by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry as Businessman of the Year.
The resolution talked about his business skills, noting that “Mr. Herr demonstrated a lifelong commitment to sound business principles while encouraging innovation in product development, packaging and distribution that made Herr Foods a pioneer in environmentally responsible business practices, including water and energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling.”
Herr was well known for his community service locally. He served as a director of the Chester County Development Council and was a Building Campaign Chairman for the Southern Chester County Health Services Medical Center. He also held leadership positions on numerous local boards and religious organizations.
The resolution also lauded Herr for enhancing the quality of life in the Oxford community, not only for the employees of Herr Foods, but also for the community at large through his generosity in various endeavors.
At this time of year, thousands of people visit the Herr Foods campus to enjoy the lighted Christmas displays that James S. Herr initiated. He also supported classic car rallies and the annual Freedom Fest, a July 4 celebration held each year in Nottingham County Park.
During public comment, resident Kurt Haegele, a former school board member who was actually the first person to suggest that the district should honor Herr in some way, said that the recognition for the Herr Foods founder was well-deserved. He also noted that the Herr family members now in charge of the company are carrying on the legacy that was started by James S. Herr.