A goodwill gesture that began in 1992 as a way to do something for an employer who had everything, has grown into a holiday tradition that calls for the planning, coordination and execution of a large-scale military exercise.
Leonard Williams, CEO of Sanford-based Wayne Densch Inc., president of Wayne Densch Charity and sole trustee of the Wayne M. Densch Charitable Trust, says shopping has already begun for this year. Social workers at about 60 nursing homes have sent gift suggestions for each Medicaid patient. The charity’s goal is to have at least two gifts for each patient to open for the holidays.
“Medicaid patients don’t usually have family who visit and may not get anything at Christmas,” explains Williams. “That’s why we do this. And it keeps growing. Last year there were about 27,000 gifts.”
Over lunch, Williams talks matter-of-factly about his successful career and lovingly about his wife of 55 years and his family. Throughout the conversation, it becomes apparent that giving back and making a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate has become his focus. His face lights up as he describes the joy that comes from making others happy.
“I’ve been blessed in so many ways,” he says.
He describes his early business success working as a salesman for Tom’s Foods, a General Mills subsidiary, after graduating from high school in Kannapolis, N.C., as a combination of hard work and a little bit of luck. Hired as a driver for a veteran salesman, he showed up for work to learn that the salesman had called in sick.
His boss gave Williams a list of stops to make. Working 12- and 14-hour days, he did more business in the three days he was filling in than the salesman had ever done. He says he thinks people were responding to his youthful enthusiasm.
The older salesman quit. Williams got the job and by the end of the summer he was doing so well that he told his mother he wanted to postpone college. He made almost $20,000 that first year, about 15 times the average annual salary. So he stayed on, rising through the ranks and eventually moving to Central Florida as district sales manager with responsibility for Florida and Georgia.
Here he became friends with Anheuser-Busch beer distributor Wayne Densch, who invited him to do some consulting. Soon Williams was working with him as a partner and, when Densch died in 1994, Williams bought the company. Proceeds from the sale went into the charitable trust Densch had founded in 1992 to help the poor, elderly and homeless.
What Densch began, Williams continued and grew. In 1997, the company moved its headquarters to Sanford. Williams divides his time between his Sanford office and the building that houses the charity in Orlando. While his head continues to be engaged with the business, it is clear that his heart is with his charitable activities. In addition to Wayne Densch Charity and the foundation, he and his wife Marjorie have created their own foundation.
Wherever one looks around Seminole County and throughout Central Florida, there is evidence of Williams’ heart at work: the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in downtown Sanford, the Wayne Densch Discovery Zone at the Central Florida Zoo, the Wayne Densch Family Trauma Center at Kids House, the new Wayne M. Densch Center that houses the Epilepsy Association of Central Florida, the Wayne Densch Sports Center at UCF, the Wayne Densch Boy Scout Center, and the Wayne Densch YMCA Family Center. While those bear the Densch name, many other charitable acts do not.
Youngsters who might not have a chance to see a Magic game get treated to lower bowl seats thanks to Williams. who sees that the charity buys a block of tickets for that purpose each year. And those nursing-home patients on Medicaid have a brighter holiday thanks to the efforts of Wayne Densch Charity.
Williams isn’t used to being in the spotlight for his charitable work, so it was unusual when he agreed to be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce at a Sept. 24 luncheon. But as beneficiary after beneficiary spoke in a video tribute to Williams, he was clearly touched. So was the audience of business and community leaders, elected officials and representatives of the organizations who benefited from his generosity.
Leonard Williams is a business leader who is making a profound difference in the quality of life in our community today and tomorrow.
Cynthia Sucher is associate vice president, community relations, at the University of Central Florida. Comments can be sent to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Herald publisher Gene Kruckemyer at GKruckemyer@MySanfordHerald.com. Topics for The Sanford Herald’s Centennial Forum opinion series are chosen by the community writers.