A Century-long Legacy of Educational Impact
ASHLAND – By the time Dr. Gilbert Hess died a century ago, “Dr. Hess” was a household name across the country. The Ashland County native and veterinarian-turned-manufacturer had formulated several effective animal remedies. Teaming up with ambitious salesman J.L. Clark, the pair made Dr. Hess and Clark Co. the largest company of its kind in the world.
Though his company’s glory has faded and his once-bustling laboratory and factory building has been razed, Dr. Hess’s legacy lives on in the hundreds of students and professionals who owe their educations, in part, to his philanthropy.
This month, Ashland County Community Foundation is observing the 100th anniversary of the Hess Educational Loan Fund, which was established in Hess’s 1923 will and is now managed by ACCF.
“This milestone anniversary is a wonderful time not only to remember one of Ashland’s great industrialists but also to reflect on the impact his philanthropy has had on generations of students,” said ACCF President/CEO Jim Cutright. “Hess’s story is a great example of how planned giving can extend your legacy and make a difference for years to come.”
Building A Business
Originally from Ashland County’s Perry Township, Dr. Hess practiced medicine before leaving the profession to study veterinary science in Chicago. In the late 1880s, he returned to Ashland, where he opened a veterinary hospital on Second Street. It was there that he mixed up and began to sell his first livestock remedies.
Business grew largely by word of mouth until a salesman for the F.E. Myers company, J.L. Clark, bought a $250 half-interest in the company.
Clark began distributing free product samples to general store operators and farmers throughout Ashland and neighboring counties. He would then return a few weeks later to take orders. The partners’ wives, Nettie Hess and Mary Clark, helped package product to keep up with growing demand.
Soon, a team of Hess and Clark salesmen were traveling the country, building connections with retailers. Within 30 years, 30,000 dealers across the country sold Hess and Clark products.
Local historian William Duff remarked in his 1915 centennial history of Ashland that “there is scarcely a city, town or hamlet in the United States or Canada where these (Dr. Hess and Clark) goods are not sold.”
Among Hess and Clark’s most popular livestock products were its Stock Tonic, Instant Louse Killer and Poultry Pan-A-Ce-A. Dr. Hess Udder Ointment, originally intended for use on the farm, became a staple of families’ medicine cabinets after farmers noticed the healing effect the product had on their own hands.
It would be hard to overstate the impact the booming business had on the Ashland community.
Two decades after Hess and Clark’s partnership began, their Ashland-based laboratory boasted 2.5 acres of floor space, and even its own printing press. The company employed hundreds.
According to a 1903 newspaper article, it was Hess and Clark’s immense mailing department that made it possible at that time for Ashland to operate Ohio’s only first-class post office in a town of just 5,000 inhabitants.
Planning A Legacy
Upon Hess’s death on September 22, 1923, reporting in the local newspaper described him as “one of Ashland’s best known and most highly esteemed citizens,” admired both for his business success and his philanthropy.
“His heart was quick to respond to calls of need,” the article read. “Great numbers will rise up to call him blessed.”
Hess didn’t leave his legacy to chance. He engaged in careful estate planning to provide for his family and also meet his charitable goals.
A bequest in his will called for the establishment of a $100,000 trust fund at First National Bank to provide local students with educational loans.
He also left money to the Children’s Home, the Salvation Army, Ashland College and Samaritan Hospital. Additional bequests went to the Presbyterian Church, where he taught Sunday school for a number of years, and the Congregational, Evangelical, Christian and United Brethren Churches.
Hess bequeathed $200,000 to his wife, Jeanette, along with several pieces of real estate, including their Center Street home, a summer home in Michigan, two business blocks in downtown Ashland and some real estate in Tampa.
Since Dr. and Nettie Hess had no children, he willed the remainder of his estate to be divided among 30 siblings, nieces and nephews.
Making An Impact
Hundreds of students have received loans from Hess’s educational trust fund, which is now administered by Ashland County Community Foundation. The loan program is led by Educational Programs Director, Lanie Hartge, along with a committee of volunteers.
“The loans are interest-free while students are in school, plus one year, so a majority of our students are able to pay these loans back before they have accrued any interest,” Hartge said. “This makes higher education more attainable, and it puts loan recipients in a better financial position as they begin their careers.”
While the total count of recipients over the past century is unknown, more than 175 students have received Hess loans since 1998, when ACCF took over management of the loan fund.
“Without that loan opportunity, there are students who would probably walk away from school,” said Kelly Gray, a Hess Loan recipient who went on to become a vice president at North Central State College.
After her own experience of using Hess Loans to enter the nursing field as a first-generation college student, Gray has counseled many students to apply for Hess Loans. Applications for Hess Loans are accepted at any time and are reviewed in November, February and June. More information, along with the online application, can be found at ashlandforgood.org/educational-loans.
“It’s so exciting that someone who sought so long ago to make a difference was able to impact hundreds of students, and each of them has impacted hundreds more lives with their education,” Gray said.
“That’s the excitement of philanthropy. You don’t have to have a million dollars. You just have to have a heart and a vision.”
For more information about a variety of planned giving types, including estate gifts to benefit the community, contact ACCF President/CEO Jim Cutright at (419) 281-4733 or email@example.com
About Ashland County Community Foundation: Ashland County Community Foundation advances philanthropy and improves the quality of life in Ashland County by connecting people who care with causes that matter. ACCF has awarded over $27 million in scholarships, grants and distributions.