When he heard that the Friends of Wildwood and Dauphin County were planning to build a nature center at Wildwood, Benjamin Olewine III was immediately interested. After discussing it with his family, he decided to become the lead donor on the project.
The Olewine family has deep roots in Harrisburg with the first generation of the family arriving in the 1700s. His grandfather opened the family’s first grocery store in 1905 and eventually the store evolved into market stalls, catering, and specialty foods. In 1958, Olewine’s Cheese House became Olewine’s, Inc. and under Mr. Olewine’s leadership became one of the top 50 full-service wholesale food distributors in the United States.
The company was sold to Sysco Corporation in 1988 and Mr. Olewine became Chairman Emeritus. He continued to go to his office (across the street from Wildwood Park) at Sysco every day until the age of 91. Mr. Olewine had seen Wildwood through many phases.
During the 1920s and 30s, his parents brought the family for picnics at Wildwood Park almost every weekend. The zoo was a special attraction as was ice skating in the winter and enjoying large bonfires along the shore. During the 1940s and 50s the Olewine family lived two blocks from Wildwood and it was again a favorite destination with his own children for ice skating and boating activities. Wildwood provided a welcome lunchtime break or after work relaxation for watching birds and other wildlife.
“Now when I see the children when they come here, it really gives me so much satisfaction that I made the decision to start this program and see it through to its conclusion. The children are so excited about what they are being exposed to and a lot of them have never had that kind of exposure. It becomes very formative for how they feel about nature and the environment.”
Mr. Olewine has funded many organizations, projects, and educational opportunities for young people in Central Pennsylvania and around the world. In 2002 he stated that his donation for the Benjamin Olewine III Nature Center at Wildwood Park was “the most gratifying thing I have done in the community.” Dauphin County, the Friends of Wildwood, and the thousands of visitors to the Center each year continue to benefit from Benjamin Olewine III’s vision and generosity.