In Memory of Dave Thomas
Written by V. Bamhs (On Fire With Bamhs)
Most households have heard the name Dave Thomas and what first comes to mind is the great American fast-food chain, Wendy’s. Besides being known for the red-headed girl with pigtails gracing every sign and drink cup and tender-juicy hamburgers so sloppy a bib just can’t quite cut it, Wendy’s is also known for the understood aura that is present in all of the restaurants. I remember first seeing a Wendy’s come to our small town in Tennessee when I was young. What kept nudging at me was how I always felt at peace when I ate there, and it wasn’t just me, my family could feel it too.
There was more to Dave Thomas than meets the eye. He was given the title “father, founder, friend” because he was the best of all of these, and more.
Born in Atlantic City on July 2, 1932 to an unwed mother, Dave was later adopted by Rex and Auleva Thomas. His adoptive mother passed away when he was just a boy of five. Despite losing his mother, Dave still had the chance to spend time with his grandma, Minnie Sinclair, in Michigan. She was the one who taught him manners that would direct his actions later in his personal and professional life.
Much of his youth was spent traveling from town to town while his adoptive father sought work. It was during this time that he got his first hint of what the future held for him when, at twelve, he got a restaurant job in Knoxville, Tennessee. This began his love for the food service industry. The most difficult choice Dave had to face, at age fifteen, was the decision to move with his family once again or see where working would take him. His choice was clearly made; he stayed and continued working full time at Hobby House restaurant in Fort Wayne. Also during this time, Dave dropped out of school and moved into the local YMCA. Through his work at Hobby House he met Colonel Sanders. Mr. Sanders noticed something special about Dave. For, not only did his strong work ethics stand out, but his personality shined just as bright.
In 1962, Dave got a chance to turn around four failing Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Columbus, Ohio owned by Phil Clauss, his Hobby House boss. Dave took on the challenge, and in four years he not only turned around all four of the restaurants, but he also sold them back to KFC for a percentage. Dave’s determination, experience, and love for the restaurant business, paid off. At age thirty-five he became a successful millionaire.
Dave Thomas’s “rags to riches” success story earned him the Horatio Alger’s Award in 1979. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale presented the award to Dave, “a man he greatly admired.”
Quotes were often given of Dave Thomas, one popular one being, “Only in America”. I have found one of his quotes that directly stands out; it states, “We should never take our freedoms for granted, and we should seize every opportunity presented to us”. Wow, that is all too familiar, and so very true. Little did Dave know that these words would come back to bless and haunt him.
In 1969, Dave Thomas’s dream of owning his own restaurant came true. That was the year he poured out his heart to the world with the creation of Wendy’s, named after one of his daughters. Dave’s innovative style was about making sure everything was freshly made to order, and about exceeding the customer’s expectations. This ultimately produced a genuine approach to the fast food industry, and created satisfactory results. Everyone else was mass producing hamburgers at a high rate of speed, and some of the foods would sit under heat lamps and dry out. Dave took a different approach to a fast changing world and stood by this saying, “We don’t cut corners.”
He put to use his creative vision and introduced the pick up window along with many original menu items. The baked potato, frosty, and chili are just a few delicious items that Dave Thomas handpicked for his menu. The start of a fresh American family style restaurant with a caring founder was in the making. The years were passing by, and Dave Thomas was writing books and winning hearts all the way across the globe.
Dave continued to share his knowledge and experience with the world in his books. His first book, Dave’s Way was published in 1991. Dave saw it as a way to give back, and provide insight into how he turned his dreams into reality. He later published a book on success called Well Done!, and the business book, Franchising for Dummies. His success enabled him to travel around the world.
Dave was probably best known as the “guy on Wendy’s TV commercials.” In early 1989, Dave agreed to appear in a few Wendy’s commercials. During his nearly 13-year run (and 800+ commercials) as Wendy’s spokesman, Americans came to love him for his genuineness.
This campaign made Dave Thomas one of the nation’s most recognizable spokesmen. The Guinness World Records™ recognized the Dave Thomas Campaign as the “Longest Running Television Advertising Campaign Starring a Company Founder.”
“Adopting The Cause” was established in 1990, when President Bush asked Dave to head the White House Initiative on Adoption. With his background as an adopted child, he gladly accepted the challenge of raising awareness. Dave found many obstacles in the adoption process: the red tape and paperwork was overwhelming, and the process was too expensive for prospective parents. After meeting with several people, he was able to complete his goal for adoptive parents and their children by creating less wait times for adoption, and tax credit for anyone adopting a child. This was established in 1997 by President Bill Clinton, with the making of the Adoption and Safe Family Act.
Dave’s giving back was more than just helping adoptive parents; he donated millions to charity and fed many hungry people by the outpouring of his generous heart. His commitment to Wendy’s and children motivated him to continue working while others may have retired. Dave accomplished great things in life, but it was his five children and sixteen grandchildren that he considered his greatest accomplishment of all.
Even with his many successes, Dave was haunted by not completing his education, so he earned his G.E.D. in 1993, at Coconut Creek High School in Ft. Lauderdale. He was voted “most likely to succeed” by his graduating class.
Dave Thomas lived up to his own standards and maintained goodness, sharing his love with others. The moral and religious side to Mr. Thomas that not many people shared or even thought much about leads me to this conclusion: Religion doesn’t have a hold on the heart or the spirit. Dave loved all, and he taught us how to accelerate our dreams by putting them into action because he loved all. Isn’t that what obedience to the Lord requires?
Even though Dave Thomas passed away years ago, he still continues to influence and inspire people every day with the legacy he has left behind. What kind of legacy are YOU going to leave behind? Who are you and What impact do you desire to have on this world?
© When Magazine
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