Brothers Ray, left, and Albert Capozucca were recently honored by the Milton S. Hershey Alumni Association with the Alumni Achievement Service Award for their business success and charitable and civic work with Little League and the Lions Club.
In sixth grade they were sent to work on a farm, each brother responsible for three cows. Up at five in the morning they milked them, cleaned them and shoveled manure. They lived in a farm home with 18 other boys, sleeping four to a room. They were kept in line by the threat of a paddle wielded by the man in charge.
Had Albert and Ray Capozucca been sentenced to a reform school farm? More like the opposite — they were students at the Milton Hershey School, where orphan boys got a quality education and became god-fearing, hard working, straight arrow, family men. The man with the paddle was no warden, he was the beloved and respected Dean Olena.
Al graduated from the Milton Hershey School in 1954; Ray in 1957. Last month the brothers were honored by the school’s 10,000 strong Alumni Association with the Alumni Achievement Service Award for their charitable and civic work with Little League and Lions Club and for founding and growing Capozucca Brothers Plumbing and Heating with skills learned at Milton Hershey School.
Ray founded Capozucca Plumbing in Pittston in 1962. When Al got out of the service, they added “Brothers.” Today it is going strong in the hands of a second generation of Capozuccas, their sons, cousins Ray and Allan.
The brothers’ father, Albert, who came over from the old country in 1923, ran a jackhammer in the Black Diamond mine in Scranton. He was 45 when black lung killed him in 1946. Young Al was 9 and Ray was 6. In those days, fatherless boys were considered orphans.
Their mother, Emma, with an eighth grade education and no work history, was left with three boys and $40 a month Social Security, an unworkable predicament. What to do?
Dino Stella, a family friend and carpenter from Keystone, talked Emma into applying for Al and Ray to go to the Milton Hershey School, where tuition and room and board were free and even clothes were provided. Stella knew what he was talking about, he had learned the carpentry trade at Hershey.
The brothers were accepted. Al was 13 and Ray was 10 when they enrolled. Older brother Reno stayed home and was later killed in a car wreck at age 25.
Today the Milton Hershey School is an academic school for low income boys and girls with a 2,000 enrollment. When Ray and Al Capozucca attended there were half that many students, all orphan and low-income boys.
Sitting in a donut shop not far from the their business, the brothers talked about Hershey school life in the 1950s. The farm the brothers worked on was five miles from the school. After working at the farm from 5 to 8 a.m., they had to get out of their barn clothes, get cleaned up and put on school clothes for the ride to school. They were back on the farm after school for more chores, a shower, study period and bed at 9 p.m. The school provided work clothes, house clothes, school clothes and Sunday clothes. They ate what was put on the table or they ate nothing. “To this day I hate red beets and liver,” Ray said.
But it wasn’t all work and no play. “We had barn teams. On Saturday and Sunday, we’d play the other barns in baseball,” Ray said. “Friday was the only night we could stay up late to watch the Friday night fights.”
One day in the last week of August before the school opened, Hershey Park was open exclusively for Milton Hershey students.
They spent 50 weeks a year at the school and were allowed to go home for two weeks in summer. When they turned 16 they got 10 cents a week, with half of it going into the bank. Once they reached high school age they choose a discipline from academic, commercial or vocational. There were several vocational choices. The brothers chose plumbing from among bakery, agriculture, electrical, airplane mechanics and others.
Vocational students spent two weeks taking typical high school academic classes such as math and English and two weeks in their vocational shop. The school also offered extracurriculars. Ray wrestled for Hershey at 103 pounds. Once a year the vocational trade students built a house from the ground up.
After the students turned 16 they were allowed to go to the movies once a week and to Hershey Park once a month. On Sundays they went to revolving Protestant services at the school’s church. The Catholics, which included Ray and Al, could go into town once a month to receive communion at a Catholic church. It was five miles and they had to get there on their own. Girls from Hershey public high taught the Milton Hershey boys to dance and provided dates for the prom.
For graduation, the school gave them $100 and a trunk of clothes with a suit, shirts and a raincoat.
The Capozuccas, as do thousands of alumni, stayed connected to the school. For years, Ray went back to play golf with an alumni group and they both go to homecoming. “It’s only 100 miles,” Al said, “An hour and a half. There’s a homecoming every September, a big banquet, suit and a tie. Dress the proper way. They have tours of the school and a Friday night get-together.”
At the banquet last month when Al and Ray got the achievement award, Al wrote a short speech and asked his grandson, Anthony Capozucca, to read it. Ray made a short speech. Both mentioned Dino Stella, the carpenter who urged the brothers’ mother to let her boys go to the Milton Hershey School. There in the audience was 93-year-old Jenny Stella, the widow of Dino Stella.
Milton Hershey School is a private school in Hershey, founded and fully funded without government money, in 1909 by chocolate millionaire Milton Hershey and his wife, Kitty.