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The generous businessman: Wendy's Hamra devoted to more than fast food.

GERALD F. "JERRY" HAMRA is known as much for his charitable work and generous support of philanthropies as for his success as chairman and chief executive officer of Wendy's of Little Rock Inc.

In that role, he is responsible for the supervision and operation of 25 Wendy's restaurants and more than 1,200 employees.

Hamra became aware of the snowballing popularity of the Wendy's chain during a 1974 visit to Memphis, Tenn.

"I saw the opening of a new Wendy's where crowds were gathered and police were directing traffic," Hamra says. "I thought there might be opportunity for similar enthusiasm in the central Arkansas market and opened the first Wendy's in North Little Rock in 1975."

Although Hamra got involved in the popular franchise operation early enough to enjoy its profitable rise, it's not his business success that he considers most rewarding. It's his work with charitable causes, particularly those that benefit children.

In 1985, Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock honored Hamra by naming a new rehabilitation center after him. At that time, the businessman pledged to raise money to build the center one of the country's finest therapy pools.

Two years later, the dream became a reality.

"I have always believed in giving back to the community," Hamra says. "One of the happiest days of my life was the dedication of the therapeutic pool at the Gerald F. Hamra Rehabilitation Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital in 1987."

The pool, which cost more than $300,000, is the only one of its kind in Arkansas and one of only 30 in the country.

Hamra's own childhood illness has heightened his devotion to the hardships of sick children. He contracted polio at age 6.

The March of Dimes also honored Hamra as its 1992 Arkansas Citizen of the Year.

In his other work, Hamra is busy expanding the Wendy's chain in northwest Arkansas.

He recently opened the 4,000th Wendy's in the world last year in Bentonville, after his franchise won the rights to that area of the state.

Two to three more restaurants are planned in the region.

Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, praised the personal qualities that have made Hamra a success in Thomas' recent autobiography, "Dave's Way."

He calls Hamra one of the "really remarkable people at Wendy's ... His people love him. They know he's a leader and they trust him. If Jerry asked, they would follow him right to the top of the highest mountain."
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Title Annotation:Arkansas Business of the Year Awards 1992: Business Executive of the Year; charitable contributions of Gerald F. Hamra, franchise owner of Wendy's of Little Rock Inc.
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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