Beyond ‘Hearthside Hymns’ — The Marlene Hershey story

By on November 22, 2016

 

The cover of Marlene Hershey’s 2012 album, “Gospel Ragtime and Solitude.”

The cover of Marlene Hershey’s 2012 album, “Gospel Ragtime and Solitude.”

Not many people can say they’ve hosted their own television and radio shows, produced 10 albums, authored a book, and even performed on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

But Marlene Hershey of Lititz can.

Here’s her incredible story of music and faith:

Born near Lancaster, Marlene was taught the power of positive thinking at an early age.

“When I was a tot, my father would place me on his lap and read me positivity stories for children,” she shared. “Many times he’d say ‘Now, Marlene, you can do whatever you wish to do in life, just keep God first.’”

At age 12, she would take up the piano, only having one year of lessons. She continued with this instrument for several years, and in 1967, her first album “Joyful Gospel Gems” would be released.

But getting it financed took a leap of faith.

“I went to the bank to get a loan for my newly-found dream,” she said. “They were reluctant, but said yes. I then acted as my own agent, pitching it to various radio stations and bookstores. The album was an immediate hit and the loan was paid back within a month!”

The cover of Marlene Hershey’s album “Sailing O’er Life’s Seaways,” photographed circa 1970. (All images provided by Marlene Hershey)

The cover of Marlene Hershey’s album “Sailing O’er Life’s Seaways,” photographed circa 1970. (All images provided by Marlene Hershey)

Several more recordings would follow, with her third album, “Sailing O’er Life’s Seaway,” having an interesting story behind the cover photo.

“The sailboat was supposedly anchored securely in place. I was wearing a dress and heels, and was never on a sailboat before,” she said. “It then got loose, so I shouted directions to shore. I think at that moment God became the sailor, and I made it safely back to shore.”

She would go on to produce 10 albums in all, four of which included the vocal talents of her daughters Sherri and Brenda, better known as the “Hershey-Ettes.”

“It all began when they asked, ‘Mommy, can we sing along with you?’” she said. “They first sang on ‘Away In A Manger’ on the album ‘Merry Christmas Melodies.’”

Her daughters also sang on an original tune which Marlene composed, “Helping Mommy Everyday.” Although this song was recorded in 1971, it still gets requested on WDAC-FM to this day.

The trio would perform all over the region. This would lead to a television program on WGAL in Lancaster, in 1968 &tstr; the same station responsible for such programs as Call of the Outdoors, Percy Platypus and his Friends, and PM Magazine.

“My entry into TV began with me taking my first album to the station manager,” she said. “He stated that if I got a sponsor, I’d have my own show.”

This photo of Marlene Hershey (right) and her daughters (left to right) Sherri and Brenda, was taken at WGAL studios.

This photo of Marlene Hershey (right) and her daughters (left to right) Sherri and Brenda, was taken at WGAL studios.

It would be called Hearthside Hymns, and Marlene would sing as well as perform on the organ and piano. Her daughters would occasionally join in.

Right away things fell into place, with Herr’s Potato Chips lining up first to finance the program. When their contract was up, Atglen Quarries became the new sponsor. And by the time they had stopped, the show &tstr; now a hit &tstr; was given free air time. The program would air for 17 years.

During her stint with WGAL, Marlene would also find the time to host Musical Moments, a popular radio show for WBYO in Boyertown, in the early 1970s.

But little did she know, this was only the beginning of her television and radio career.

Marlene Hershey and the Hershey-ettes (her daughters, Sherri and Brenda) recorded “Happiness is the Lord,” in 1975.

Marlene Hershey and the Hershey-ettes (her daughters, Sherri and Brenda) recorded “Happiness is the Lord,” in 1975.

“In 1973, Nelson Sears, then station manager for WGAL, saw potential in us, so he made contact in Nashville for my daughters and I to sing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry,” Marlene said. “We performed on the Grand Old Gospel Hour, with Roy Acuff serving as emcee. In addition to playing live, It also went out to a huge radio audience. They all loved us!”

After her success in music, one day Marlene was asked what she’d like to do with the rest of her life.

“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, but I needed high school algebra and chemistry courses,” she admitted.

Accepting the challenge, she returned to high school in 1989 (the same one her son was attending at the time) to complete the required classes. Along the way, she also discovered another talent &tstr; art. With no previous experience, she chose drawing and design classes as electives and scored high marks.

After completing the necessary courses, she enrolled at Millersville University, graduating as a registered nurse in 1994.

Marlene's 2013 book cover.

Marlene’s 2013 book cover.

Today, Marlene is “retired” but still very active.

For over 25 years and counting, she has given piano lessons. She also posts daily inspirational quotes on Twitter to her over 30,000 followers.

In 2012, she released “Gospel Ragtime and Solitude,” an instrumental piano album engineered by Ron Fairchild, keyboardist of the Oak Ridge Boys.

And in 2013, “God Steps,” was released, a book containing over 600 of her inspirational proverbs.

“I felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder to write a book,” she said. “So I did just that.”

She is also focused on motivational speaking, becoming a certified trainer under John Maxwell.

And to this day, her fans still recognize her on the street.

“My life has been one big miracle,” she said. “When asked, I tell people, ‘You go for whatever your dream is.’”

Cory Van Brookhoven is the president of the Lititz Historical Foundation and a regular contributor of historical features to the Record Express. He can be reached at coryvb@hotmail.com.

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