Corry Oakes ’89 was just out of college and in his fourth interview with WJB Video, a Blockbuster Video franchisee, when he met George Dean Johnson Jr. ’64, who was the managing partner at the time. Within 15 minutes, Johnson had offered Oakes the job saying, “See you in the morning at 7 a.m.”
Now, 32 years and several ventures later, Johnson and Oakes are still business partners, and Susu and George Johnson just honored Oakes’ friendship and service to their company, the community and Wofford College by establishing the Corry W. Oakes III Endowed Interim Support Fund to provide opportunities for students with financial need to make the most of international travel and internship experiences.
“We wanted to do something to honor Corry and the person he is, including his tremendous leadership on the college’s board of trustees,” says Johnson. “We also wanted to support students who are following in his footsteps.”
Oakes just finished a 12-year term on the board and two years of service as the chairman. When he and Johnson first met, however, Oakes had never been out of the country, partly because of the demands of playing football for the Terriers and partly because of financial constraints.
“We have become more connected,” says Oakes. “This fund will give students the opportunity to participate in study abroad or internships, giving them a different perspective that’s critical. … I’m incredibly grateful for this wonderful gift and to continue to be associated with George. Our relationship is one of the great gifts in life I have received.”
Johnson consulted Dr. Nayef Samhat on the gift to Oakes.
“We had a great advisor, who just happens to be the president of Wofford College,” says Johnson. “We asked him what would be the right gift. He came back with this, and we immediately said yes.”
“Preparing our students to thrive in a global and increasingly interconnected world means offering opportunities to learn from people and experiences that push us beyond our levels of comfort and knowledge,” says Samhat. “Corry Oakes has supported Wofford students through board leadership and by mentoring students and providing internships that have done exactly that. The generosity of the Johnsons honors that commitment and our college’s mission and core values.”
Johnson says he recognized Oakes’ leadership potential from the beginning, something that Oakes says he’s honed by working with and learning from Johnson. For both, what started with a more formal education at Wofford — inspired by teachers and mentors such as Dr. Lewis P. Jones ’38, Dr. George Martin ’59, Dr. Joe Lesesne and Mike Ayers — became a lifelong thirst for opportunities to learn, grow and improve.
“Being around George Johnson is like being in a master’s class — not just in business, but how to be a better person,” says Oakes.
“I’ve learned that I can’t keep up with Corry anymore,” says Johnson. Sitting side by side in the Johnson Group’s spacious conference room overlooking downtown Spartanburg, both smile. “He’s tireless,” continues Johnson, “and the people who work with him love him. He’s the best of the best.”
The Oakes Fund will give future generations of Wofford students opportunities to explore professional interests through global travel and study while ensuring that money is not a limiting factor.
“Wofford is a very special place, and we’re fortunate to have it in this community,” says Johnson. “I want students to know that if they get an education at Wofford, there’s no reason to think they can’t do anything they want to do.”