Mira Hershey (1843 to 1930)
Muscatine first became rich due to lumber. Benjamin Hershey was one of the original lumber barons. He further built his fortune by acquiring a saw mill and his own bank. Benjamin was the father of four daughters, of whom one, Almira, called MIra, inherited both his money and his business acumen. Mira's philanthropy helped Muscatine grow and develop.
To honor her father, Mira built Muscatine's Hershey Hospital, dedicated to caring for the sick without regard to race, color, creed, or income. She later added a home for the nurses who worked there. She provided the funds to build and maintain the Lutheran Homes, a sanctuary for the aged and for orphans. She built the Hershey Building. She helped finance the construction of the Muscatine YWCA.
Mira moved to California in 1894, where she invested in real estate, including the Hollywood Hotel. It was said that Rudolph Valentino was discovered there. A niece of novelist Anita Loos recalled that Mira "had a habit of stepping out on the veranda edging the curved palm-lined driveway to oversee the leisurely flow of traffic. Her bifocals must have interfered with her perspective for she was known to trip and fall down the steps. So their edges were painted white, and the...bellhops stood by to catch her if she fell. Once a month she drove her electric automobile down to Spring Street to see her lawyers. She usually forgot where she parked it, and the police department was called to help her find it."
Mira was born in 1843. She had three sisters, two of whom died young. After studying in Berlin for several years, she returned to Muscatine where she was secretary for her father at the mill which eventually became the Mira Hershey Lumber Company; she later was on the board of his bank. The Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Muscatine, published in 1893, describes her as ranking high as an artist and musician with a "mind stored with the best thoughts of the best authors." She had "a genial, sunny disposition, and dispensed gladness and sunshine" wherever she went.
After moving to California, Mira Hershey presented UCLA with its first on-campus dormitory and, as she had previously done in Muscatine, she established the Good Hope Hospital (later the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center), where persons of moderate means were treated and paid only what they could afford to pay. Mira paid the difference between their payments and the normal hospital charges. She also left $100,000 as a loan fund for UCLA students.
Mira Hershey died in her suite in her hotel in 1930. Mira was a pioneer in real estate and a philanthropist of the first order. Muscatine was lucky to have her as a benefactor.