Wendy's founder an American original

I read The Associated Press obituary of Dave Thomas, founder of the fast-food chain Wendy's, with both nostalgia and sadness.

I can't claim to be more than someone who once interviewed Thomas in Chicago, but I recall vividly talking with the man in a busy Wendy's in the Chicago Loop and later by phone.

He was affable that day, neatly attired with a red necktie. He "bought" lunch for me in that noisy, busy restaurant. He paid in cash. We sat at a table and talked about his early life, the problems he had had as an adopted child, his vow to do all in his power to help family-less children.

He told me family was the keystone to a rich and full life. He was an adopted child and he never forgot how important his family had been to him.

He told me about his period as a mess cook in the U.S. Army (something the AP didn't mention) and how that helped him formulate his chain of stores. He laughed about making 900 hamburgers for lunch. "I was a pretty good flipper," he said.

I asked him why he decided on square hamburgers.

"I wanted people to be able to see the burger where it stuck out of the bun," he said. "See what they were getting."

I later talked with Thomas several times about his sponsorship of Wendy's Downhill Ski Races, often staged in Lake Tahoe. He made sure that kids were involved in those races as well as the skiing professionals. He created a foundation to help in adoption.

"Never learned to ski, but I like the idea of individual competition rather than big team sports," he said over the phone from Columbus, Ohio. "Kids love it."

My time with Thomas on the phone and in person was short, but it was enough to know that this was a man who cared about homeless children deeply. He demonstrated that time and again with help to children in many ways. He was warm-hearted, had a fine sense of humor and was an America original.

Wherever he is now I suspect he'll be flipping burgers and wondering how he can help some more kids.

Sam Bauman is editor of the Nevada Appeal's Diversions section.


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