By: Scott RossPublished: September 14, 2022

Melinda Lou Thomas

Dave Thomas was a high school dropout who worked in restaurants in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before enlisting in the Army in 1950 and getting sent to he Cook's and Baker's School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where they prepared him to run the mess hall at a base in West Germany.

After his discharge in 1953, he returned to restaurant work in Fort Wayne, and the following year married his co-worker, Lorraine Buskirk, and the couple promptly got down to the business of making babies, cranking out five in less than a decade.

In the mid-fifties, the restaurant where Dave worked was turned into a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dave set to work helping to make the nascent brand an American icon, developing the giant KFC rotating bucket sign and convincing Colonel Sanders to appear in the chain's commercials, among other innovations.

By the end of the 1960s, Thomas sold back to Sanders his stake in KFC, netting a cool $1.5 million, more than enough to launch his own place, but he needed a name.

Dave's daughter Melinda Lou had been born on September 14, 1961. She was the fourth of five kids, and when some of her siblings found they had trouble pronouncing her name, she became known first as Wenda and then finally Wendy. After deciding that none of his kids' given names had the right ring to them, he decided on Wendy's.

"My mom made my blue and white dress and she stuck my hair up in pigtails," Wendy wrote years later. "And, boy, did I cry. It hurt. Then she stuck those pipe cleaners in there. We sat in front of the photographer for what felt like five or six hours."

The rest is fast food history.

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