Feeding the body and soul


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



According to an article in Forbes magazine, the definition of a good corporate citizen is a business that provides positive values to society and is exceeding the expectations of all their stakeholders. That would include their customers, employees, governmental officials, suppliers and community leaders.

We are truly blessed here in Wilmington to have many companies, large and small, that take their responsibility as a corporate citizen very seriously. They care for their employees. They care for the entire community. They provide consistent quality services to their customers.

I won’t even try to list them all, because I’m sure I would leave out some excellent examples of great corporate citizenship.

We know that Thanksgiving is our traditional day of feasting, family and fellowship. It’s the day of the year when we deliberately slow down. We pause to reflect on our blessings.

Thanksgiving is not a typical day. Most people get to take the entire day off work. Many folks find a way of stretching their day off to a four- or five-day weekend.

However, some people work harder than normal on Thanksgiving.

Many of the managers and employees at our local Wendy’s restaurant are just such people.

Most people know a little about the history of Wendy’s. Dave Thomas made a fortune, and a name for himself, by selling delicious, square hamburgers. You could buy a single, a double or a triple with any combination of condiments and fresh toppings. His first Wendy’s Restaurant was opened 49 years ago, just up the road in downtown Columbus.

Thomas’ personal story is fairly well known. As an infant, he was adopted. His adoptive mother died when he was young. His father moved regularly, traveling from job to job.

Young Dave followed his Dad and learned to work hard, to be proud of his hard work and to give back. He developed a strong sense of ethics. He felt that everyone had a responsibility to give back into life more than they take out.

Dave insisted that all Wendy’s employees treat people with respect, do the right thing, and give something back to the communities where they do business.

After bouncing from place to place with his dad, the Thomases ended up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dave was only 15 years old when he started cooking for the Clauss family, the owners of the Hobby House Restaurant.

When his dad moved on, Dave decided to stay on in Fort Wayne. He dropped out of school and started working full-time at the Hobby House Restaurant.

In the mid-1950s Col. Harland Sanders started looking for restaurants that would make his fried chicken with the exact process and recipe that he had developed.

Eventually, the Hobby House obtained one of the first franchises as a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. They expanded, opening several other KFCs in the area. Dave Thomas worked closely with Harland Sanders during this phase of rapid expansion.

He convinced the Colonel to appear in his own commercials. He developed the KFC brand by designing the unique red and white striped buckets that held the chicken.

He invested heavily in many of the restaurants. By 1968, he was able to sell his stake in the company for over $1.5 million. Using that money, Dave Thomas was able to open his first Wendy’s restaurant in Columbus. Very quickly the business grew into a nationwide phenomenon.

All the while, Thomas insisted that each of his restaurants become a vital part of their community. His insistence that each restaurant give back to their community is really evident here in Wilmington.

For the past 24 years, a small group of citizens with the full, wholehearted support of Wendy’s have provided thousands of meals to people in our community.

Arlafaye Carnahan, Lorry Swindler and Tari Mabry were inspired to share a full Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who asked. From cranberry sauce to pumpkin pie with the turkey and all the fixings included, these meals are hand-delivered to people who might not have been able to enjoy a feast without their help.

Wendy’s employees and volunteers completely rearrange the restaurant to make a mass food processing assembly line that is staffed by dozens of volunteers.

Wendy’s owners, managers and staff work shoulder to shoulder with community volunteers to feed thousands of people. Over the years, it’s been an honor to be a small part of the Wendy’s Thanksgiving operation.

Dave Thomas died nearly 17 years ago.

He would be very proud of his little restaurant here in Wilmington.

He would be even more proud of the people who run it and the community it serves.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist