Oxford Area High School auditorium named in honor of James S. Herr
● By Steven Hoffman
When students return for the start of the new school year, the Oxford Area High School auditorium will be different in a small, but significant way.
There is now a plaque near the entrance to the auditorium that identifies it as the James S. Herr Auditorium. This space, a place where people will gather as a community for education and entertainment, will be a tribute to a man who left a lasting legacy on the Oxford community and beyond. Herr was the founder of the snack food company that still bears his family's name, and was a tireless and generous public servant, as well as a respected businessman, until he passed away in April of 2012 at the age of 87.
Last week, school district officials quietly unveiled the plaque before the start of a new school year.
The Oxford School Board made the dedication of the auditorium official on Dec. 16, 2014, approving a resolution to honor one of the Oxford area's most prominent citizens.
At that time, James M. Herr, the chairman of Herr Foods, thanked the school district for naming the auditorium after his father.
“It is such an honor, what you have done for Dad,” James M. Herr 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.
How James S. Herr built the Nottingham business into such an innovative and well-respected regional leader in the snack food industry is a real success story.
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. Herr's tireless work ethic, 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 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.
At the time the school board adopted the resolution honoring Herr, school board president Donna Arrowood noted Herr's 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…”
The Small Business Administration selected him as the Outstanding Pennsylvania Businessman of the Year in 1969. In 1997, Herr was recognized by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry as Businessman of the Year.
In addition to his business acumen, 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.
When the plaque was unveiled last week, superintendent David Woods talked about Herr's support for Oxford schools. Arrowood noted that the quiet unveiling of the plaque was in keeping with the Herr family's humble nature when it comes to service to the community.
Arrowood gave credit to Kurt Haegele, a Nottingham resident and former school board member, for originally suggesting that the district should find a way to honor James S. Herr's legacy.