Dave Thomas, the fast-food impresario who gained fame appearing in the TV commercials that sell his hamburgers, enlisted in the Army at age 18. His first claim to fame was being named one of the youngest soldiers ever to manage an Enlisted Men’s Club.
Thomas was an orphan who grew up in boarding houses and never finished high school. He began his career working in a series of restaurants, including a stint as manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken store. In 1969, he decided to take a shot at his own fast-food chain, opening his first restaurant in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The namesake of the restaurant was Dave Thomas's daughter Wendy.
Today, there are more than 4,800 Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers restaurants across the United States and Dave Thomas has become a celebrity and a philanthropist. Asked by President Bush in 1990 to serve a spokesperson for the “Adoption Works … For Everyone” campaign, the founder of Wendy's took his role one step further by designating adoption as his restaurant's national charitable cause. He committed both time and money to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and for several national adoption awareness programs.
Dave is a gifted public speaker, often sharing his wit and wisdom with students. At age 60, he finally earned his high school diploma. After studying with a tutor for three months, he passed the General Education Degree test and attended graduation ceremonies at Coconut Creek High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Mr. Thomas wore a traditional gown and a Wendy's cap, took his wife of 45 years to the senior prom, and was voted by his fellow students as “Most Likely to Succeed.”
"We tend to make courage too dramatic. Courage is often doing something simple, unpleasant, or boring again and again until we get it down pat," says Thomas. "People who are physically challenged and who have the determination to get around their handicaps are great examples because their courage makes them test their limits every day."