Jerry Summers: Breezy Wynn - Knoxville Icon (1909-1992)

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Most Knoxvillians and Tennesseans probably would not recognize the name of Herman D. Wynn who was one of the community's most entertaining and successful businessmen.

However if you identify the individual as “Breezy Wynn” according to his athletic, business and philanthropy accomplishments he would be recognized by members of the community in the 1960s-1990s.

Breezy was an outstanding high school athlete in Dublin, Georgia in the 1920s and was strongly recruited by college coaches as a football player although he was an outstanding all-around athlete in football, basketball and track.

He was inducted into the Dublin High Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

“Breezy” played football at Georgia Military College in 1928 and at Richmond Academy in 1929.

He was recruited by the legendary University of Tennessee football coach Gerald Robert “Bob” Neyland to play fullback and kicker for the Volunteers.

He received the Amateur Football Award from the National Football Hall of Fame and in 1958 “Breezy” was nominated for “Sports Illustrated’s” Silver Anniversary Collegiate Football All Star Team in recognition of being an athlete who had distinguished himself in his chosen field of employment.

While at Tennessee he began his business career by operating Vol Dry Cleaners, a pool room, a barber shop, a meat market and a collection agency.

He used the proceeds of these businesses after graduation to open an athletic equipment company, The Southern Athletic Company.

He employed women to sew athletic uniforms and equipment that were much lighter than his competitors, “old-fashioned kind.”

His products quickly developed a national source of business from high schools and colleges across the country.

Breezy’s business expanded to the operation of 23 plants, employed 3,500 employees and resulted in contracts for his products in excess of $25 million.

With the outbreak of World War II he converted his production lines into manufacturing over nine million barrack “duffle” bags.

Never one to be too modest Breezy gave himself the title of the “The King of Barrack Bags”.

Due to the government contracts, by 1945 he had expanded to 10 factories in five states and shipped more than a million garments to 11 foreign countries under the Lend Lease program.

After the war ended he opened several other businesses that included making all-weather coats for the military and civilian customers and continued the production of sporting good items.

Wynn’s interests were not limited to money-making matters.

He was an active and generous supporter of many projects in the Knoxville area that benefited both the community and less fortunate.

An almost endless list of his activities would include organization of an annual charity football game to benefit children with Cerebral Palsy, saving the Knoxville Symphony from financial ruin and solicitation of $3 million to build a hospital for children, are just three of his contributions to Knoxville.

In 1964 he sold his interest in the Southern Athletic Company and entered retirement.

Being idle did not match his aggressive personality and after a short respite he formed Wynn Industries and took over the idle Apparel Corporation of American.

This action restored hundreds of jobs to the employment rolls as the company manufactured clothing for both adults and children of both sexes.

The voice of “Breezy” was silenced on May 23, 1992 at the age of 82 and he is buried at Berry Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville.

Nicknamed the “Duke of Dublin” as part of his legend, Breezy’s outlook on life was simple:

“Look ahead.  Yesterday is history, but tomorrow will always offer new challenges to be conquered.  I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

With his death Knoxville lost one of its most colorful and valuable citizens.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

           

Breezy Wynn
Breezy Wynn

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