What does the word family mean to you? For most it is a very strong word. It defines in one word those with whom you share a special bond. That bond can be genetic as in the case of parents, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
That bond can be just as strong without a blood connection. Adoptive parents certainly have a strong family bond with those children they raise. Church families are supportive of each other in good times and bad.
Families can be people that you grow with and become close to over time. My college fraternity played a big part in my life as I left the security of home and went off on my own at college. It is not an accident that the men I met at Sigma Alpha Epsilon while at Auburn University were called brothers. Some of those bonds remain incredibly strong even 45 years later.
Circumstances also allowed me to become a part of another family. On Father’s Day weekend of 1997, a group of Hardee’s franchisees gathered from around the country in Baltimore. The Hardee’s brand had just been sold and none of those gathered knew what to expect. We decided to form an association to collectively sail into the uncharted waters together.
A board of 13 was formed and from those early seeds of doubt an incredible association was born. The Independent Hardee’s Franchisee Association (IHFA) grew to become one of the most respected franchise associations in the country.
The IHFA formed committees and worked with the new franchisor to bring the brand back to some of its greatest days. Training classes were started. Scholarships were given to employees. Millions were raised for charity. It was a true success story.
But for me personally, the story is not about the IHFA’s success, important as it was to our own company. This group of people slowly became part of a new family for me. Our common bond was only that we were involved with the Hardee’s brand.
We shared the ups and downs of the fast food business. We stayed up late talking about our individual success and failures. We learned from each other and started holding ourselves accountable. We learned how to work for the greater good.
Along the way, we learned about each other. We gradually started bringing our spouses to the meetings who formed their own friendships with the group. We celebrated the births of the next generation and then the next. We shared the pain of our personal losses, just as families do.
I am not sure when I realized that the IHFA was more than just a business association for me, but once that familial bond was formed between us, it never wavered. Some men and women of the board would move on and new members would take their place at the table. They were good solid people. All of them.
I attended my last IHFA Board meeting in St. Pete this past week. It was a time of bittersweet celebration for me. I was one of just four of the original founding members left. Now there are three.
We told old tales, celebrated the victories of the past, and shared pictures of our grandchildren. We were instrumental to Hardee’s success in the past. They will continue to be critical to Hardee’s success in the future.
At the end of the night, we lifted our glasses in a toast. Many words were said that touched my heart. Even now, I am misty eyed as I describe one of the finest group of people I have ever known.
I have been blessed in many ways over my life. But at the end of my days, when I look back at what meant the most to me I am sure that I will hold up my extended families as my greatest treasure.
Through the words on this page I now lift my own toast back to the men and women of the IHFA. Thank you for your wisdom, guidance, friendship and love over these past two decades. You are my truly one of my other families in the best sense of the word.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org