THE ALFRED DAY HERSHEY Michigan Historical Marker was unveiled on Mason Street in Owosso on Monday, May 20. Shown directly following the unveiling are (from left) Owosso’s Shaffer Fox, Margie Lyons Rockwell, Rep. Ben Frederick, former Rep./Senator Bill Ballenger with his Elkhound, along with former Reps. Ben Glardon, Francis “Bus” Spaniola and Dr. Richard Ball. Many other dignitaries were in attendance, including former state Senators Joe Hune and Rick Jones.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
A Michigan Historical Marker honoring Owosso native Alfred Day Hershey was unveiled on Monday afternoon, May 20 at 515 E. Mason Street in Owosso – Hershey’s birthplace. According to a press release, “In 1952, Alfred Day Hershey and his lab assistant discovered, demonstrated, proved and confirmed that DNA carries the genetic code of life. Lauded as one of the greatest discoveries of the modern age, it serves as a foundation for advances in over 100 branches of biology, medicine and anthropology.” Hershey is also responsible for other discoveries including the “growth stages of viruses, spontaneous mutations in viruses, viral hybridization, the chemical later identified as messenger RNA, the genetic volume of viruses, how to weigh DNA, how to accurately divide and break DNA and that some DNA is single-stranded and some circularize.”
Hershey was born in Owosso on December 4, 1908 and died on May 22, 1997. He went on to earn a B.S. in bacteriology and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (now MSU). He was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Chicago (1967) and an Honorary Doctor of Medical Science by MSU (1970). Hershey was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1958, was co-winner of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1958), was winner of the Kimber Genetics Award (1965) and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1969.
The Michigan Historical Marker honoring Hershey and his incredible accomplishments was initiated in 2014 when Owosso historian and impassioned enthusiast Shaffer Fox presented a list of sixty-five proposed Owosso locations for historical markers to then mayor Ben Frederick. Frederick strongly supported the Hershey endeavor and has since donated half the cost of the marker project. Other financial contributors include Bill Ballenger, former professor/state representative/state senator and multimedia host and publisher, who actually honored Hershey with Michigan House Concurrent Resolution Number 277 in 1969. Ballenger then helped recruit fourteen others to contribute to the project including former state Representatives Dr. Richard Ball, Ben Glardon, Clark Harder, Larry Julian, and Francis “Bus” Spaniola, and former state Senators Alan Cropsey, Joe Hune and Rick Jones along with current state Senator Tom Barrett and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar. Also, former Congressmen David Camp and Bill Schuette, plus Owosso native daughter Virginia (Bunny) Woodard Matthews and her husband, Terry, now of Binghamton, NY.
After Fox submitted a 212-page application for the marker through the state of Michigan in 2014, the project had to wait five years to meet a fifty-year time requirement. The Hershey marker on Mason Street now represents Owosso’s first Michigan Historical Marker in twenty-eight years.
Just prior to the unveiling, Fox shared, “Comparative analysis now strongly indicates that Owosso is the birth place and/or long term home of more people per capita whose lives made great impact, than any other city in the United States with the exception of capital cities and some areas around Hollywood, CA. That’s an amazing thing. There is, in fact, something very special about Owosso, MI.”
Ballenger shared that he “had been waiting 50 years for this,” reflecting on Hershey’s massive achievements in the scientific community.
“I think it is all too easy for us to forget our inheritance as a community,” Rep. Frederick shared during the unveiling, thanking the students of Emerson Elementary school for their attendance and pointing out that they are the generation who will later reflect on the event.
Since Hershey does not have living relatives, Frederick introduced Margie Lyons Rockwell, the great-granddaughter of Araminta Van Wormer, one of Owosso’s first settlers who arrived in the area with the Comstock party. Lyons Rockwell, with some assistance, pulled the plastic covering from Hersey’s marker, which stands well over nine feet and is positioned in the right-of-way at the Mason Street home.
Hershey can now be placed along with other Owosso “greats” such as writer/conservationist James Oliver Curwood, internationally famous Impressionist painter Frederick Carl Frieseke, presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey and Owosso founders Alfred and Benjamin Williams, Elias Comstock or Chief Wasso. Fox has stated that he has more applications in development for Michigan Historical Markers in Owosso.