Ruth’s parents, Anton (Tony) and Mina arrived in California in 1923, not long after they were married in Germany. They used tickets that had been purchased by a relative who was unable to make the trip due to injuries incurred in World War I, and they improvised as they went along, working hard and improving their English.
After a couple of jobs in Santa Ana, they took the opportunity to work on Balboa Island at the small store at Marine and Park Avenue, which also served as the post office and featured a single gas pump right in front. Ruth was born in 1926 and the three of them lived in the stock room behind the store – a small bedroom and bath.
Ruth recalls a magical childhood, running and playing all around the Island, including the swing set that was on the vacant lot next to the store (now the location of J.P. Maxwell). She took the ferry daily to attend elementary school on the peninsula, along with the other Island kids.
The family eventually bought the house at 201 Onyx and lived there, but they sold it shortly afterwards to buy the two lots where the Village Inn currently stands. They continued working at the market, eventually becoming part-owners, and they started additional business ventures. Tony had originally been trained as a horticulturist and he loved gardening. On their new property, he started a landscaping and nursery business and Mina ran a restaurant adjacent with the style of a German Beer Garden (and the family lived on the premises, too.)
Although the Island was comprised of dredged sand and was not friendly to vegetation, Tony managed to plant trees and flowering bushes by bringing in soil from off the Island and mixing in fertilizer. He served many of the early Island residents and was responsible for most of the greenery that has continued to thrive through the years.
With the end of prohibition, the Hersheys realized that the income from the restaurant had greater potential so they put more effort into that enterprise and less into the landscaping. Meanwhile, their role at the store, now called “Hershey’s Market,” had expanded. Eventually, they leased the restaurant to others and by this time they had moved into another house on the 200 block of Onyx. And when Ruth was old enough to get married, she and her husband lived right next door. Their children grew up on the Island, moving to a larger house on the 100 block of Onyx, where Ruth still resides. Susan and Tony have children and one of them has two small children – a fifth generation.
The Hershey family has witnessed and influenced incredible changes on Balboa Island. Tony was instrumental in starting the Christmas festivities on the Island – the big Christmas tree and other holiday traditions. Ruth lovingly made stockings to distribute to Island kids each year and filled them with candy. Tony portrayed Santa and gave each child a coveted stocking, including, of course, an extra-large Hershey bar.
The Balboa Island Museum THANKS the Hershey family for sharing their story and precious family photos, including one with Ruthie and Shirley Temple who was visiting the Island. Much more info and visuals will be on display in the near future.