By Ed Meek
Originally published on HottyToddy.com, April 7, 2014
We knew Joe Fenley as “the sandwich man.”
The air cargo industry knew him as a giant among entrepreneurs.
Grace Fenley, current Ole Miss business student, knew him as “my Dad.”
Grace has attended Ole Miss for the last four years, perhaps sensing the spirit of her late father who graduated in journalism from Ole Miss in 1961. She has visited her father’s favorite professor several times during her undergraduate years.
That would be Dr. Jere Hoar, now retired. Professor Hoar keeps up with his former students, and several years ago Joe Fenley wrote a handwritten note on a yellow legal pad to his old teacher, in which he described the love he had for the campus:
“(I) owe a great indebtedness to Ole Miss for allowing me to pursue a education with the ability to work my way through school delivering food to the student from the student grill. Those years unbeknownst to me were character building years.” Joe wrote.
Joe never forgot his job in the Ole Miss grill.
He worked there delivering sandwiches to dorms at night for a nifty profit of a nickel a sandwich. He would enter the first- floor doorway of the dorm and yell “sandwich man.” Dorm residents rushed to the first floor to select a late-night snack from the cardboard box filled with handmade sandwiches that Joe carried from dorm to dorm.
Armed with his degree and hard-earned work experience, Joe left the campus and had went on to a highly successful career in the air-freight business.
In 1994, he sold Gateway Freight Services to KLM airlines. At the time, Gateway was the largest independent handler of international air cargo in the world — with l,000 employees serving 25 domestic and international airlines at 10 airports in the United States.
The sale for millions was an extraordinary jump from paying his way through Ole Miss as the sandwich man.
In the mid-1980s, Joe established the Fenley Fund for journalism students, administered by his friend and mentor, Dr. Hoar. Unlike most established funds that are designated to reward academic achievement or leadership, the Fenley fund recognized working students who, like Joe, have to work to pay college expenses.
“He (Dr. Jere Hoar) certainly was a positive male role model for Joe — critical to many a young man in just about every aspect of his malleable life,” recalls Gigi Fenley, Joe’s widow who visits the Oxford campus regularly to see her daughter, Grace. ”Ole Miss and Jere shaped Joe’s future, and I have to say every chance he got, Joe gave his education at Ole Miss credit for his success.
“That degree gave him confidence and opened doors to a big, wonderful world,” she added.
A resident of California, Joe died of cancer on Jan. 9, 2005.
Grace will graduate from the School of Business in May, and Joe’s son, Bryan, is a sports broadcaster in Spokane, Wa.
In 1961, when Joe earned his Bachelor of Science degree In Journalism, the degree was offered through the School of Business. Recently Gigi, Bryan and Grace were major donors in support of the Jere Hoar Scholarship Fund in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
Joe Fenley, the sandwich man, would be proud.
-Ed Meek, ’62, classmate, and friend to both Joe and Professor Hoar. Ed is the publisher of HottyToddy.com