Breezy Wynn: leading industrialist

Jim Tumblin
History and Mysteries

Bob Gilbert’s definitive 1990 biography of Gen. Bob Neyland, “Neyland: The Gridiron General,” has some significant contents that you cannot find in other biographies. In the appendix Gilbert cites the 10 most memorable events during Neyland’s career.

An entry from 1928 begins the list, and one from 1959 ends it. The 1928 entry:

Tennessee 16, Alabama 13. Gene McEver returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

The 1959 item was:

Herman D. “Breezy” Wynn (1909-1992) (Circa 1932). Wynn began his business career before he graduated from the University of Tennessee. A star fullback and kicker while at U.T., he became Knoxville’s leading businessman during and after World War II. Photograph courtesy of Scott Thomspon, Esq.
Herman D. “Breezy” Wynn (1909-1992) (Circa 1932). Wynn began his business career before he graduated from the University of Tennessee. A star fullback and kicker while at U.T., he became Knoxville’s leading businessman during and after World War II. Photograph courtesy of Scott Thomspon, Esq.

Tennessee 14, LSU 12. Bill Majors, Charlie Severance, Wayne Grubb and Joe Schaffer stopped LSU all-American Billy Cannon’s run (attempt) for a two-point extra point.

Between those two events, Gilbert cites another dramatic moment for which our subject was responsible. From 1932:

Tennessee 16, Duke 13. Herman “Breezy” Wynn kicked the game-winning 28-yard field goal late in the game. The snap from center was mishandled, and the ball was (lying) on its side when Wynn kicked it.

That unorthodox kick came at a crucial time in the game, and it would not be the last of Wynn’s outstanding contributions to Tennessee Volunteer football during his career.

Herman D. Wynn was born in Dublin, Ga., on Nov. 6, 1909, the son of Willis R. and Minnie D. Wynn. After his graduation from high school, Herman attended Georgia Military College in 1928 and then Richmond Academy in 1929. Somewhere along the way his exploits in football, basketball and track had earned him the nickname “Breezy,” which stuck with him for life.

Breezy came to the University of Tennessee in 1930 driving an Essex automobile with no top and with only $10 in his pocket. He played fullback for the Vols from 1930-33, becoming one of the best running backs in the conference. He added to his laurels by becoming an outstanding drop-kicker when that was a popular weapon. His teammates included some of the all-time Vol greats, including Beattie Feathers, Herman Hickman and Bobby Dodd.

Wynn broke his leg in a game against Virginia Tech, the first game of the 1933 season, when he was a senior. Legendary coach Robert Neyland said his injury resulted in two early defeats because, until those two games, UT had not lost a game with Breezy suited up. The 1933 team had a 7 win, 3 loss season, losing only to Duke, Alabama and LSU after outstanding 9-0-1 seasons in both 1931 and 1932.

Herman D. “Breezy” Wynn
Herman D. “Breezy” Wynn

While still in college, Wynn began his distinguished career in business by founding Volunteer Cleaners, a pool room, a barber shop, a meat market, the Toggery men’s clothing store and a collection agency – all of them during the Great Depression.

After he graduated, he founded an athletic equipment company: the Southern Athletic Co. He borrowed some money and hired a few women to sew uniforms. His ingenuity resulted in equipment and uniforms much lighter than the old-fashioned kind, and orders soon came from high schools and colleges all over the country. He eventually controlled 23 plants in several states and employed 3,500 workers with contracts of more than $25 million.

When World War II began, Wynn recognized the need for “duffle” bags and applied for a government contract. He shipped about 50,000 bags a week for a total of over nine million, and he also produced the M-65 jacket in large numbers. By 1945, he was running 10 factories in five states: Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and New York. His company shipped more than a million garments to 11 foreign countries and produced more than a million pairs of pants for the Lend Lease program.

After the war, he began an army salvage business and continued to make all-weather coats for the military and civilian markets while making sporting goods at his Southern Athletic Co. When he sold his interest in Southern Athletic to Diversa Inc. of Dallas in 1964, he retired temporarily. At that time the company was grossing $15 to 20 million a year.

His retirement did not last long, as he soon founded Wynn Industries and took over the idle Apparel Corporation of America, putting hundreds back to work manufacturing clothing for men, women, boys and girls. They signed a 20-year contract worth $40 million in 1970.

With all his business responsibilities, Wynn still found time to contribute greatly to his community. He was a founder and president of the Knoxville Quarterback Club, president of the Knoxville Symphony Society and organizer of an annual charity football game to benefit the Cerebral Palsy group. While serving as its president, he brought the symphony out of its financial difficulty.

He was active in Church Street United Methodist Church, the Boys Club, the City Club, Cherokee Country Club and the Tennessee Manufacturers Association. He gave 1,000 trees to Dogwood Festival organizers and personally contributed $100,000 to Children’s Hospital while soliciting an additional $3 million for their building fund. At his winter home in Palm Beach, Fla., he was active in the Everglades Bath and Tennis Club and the Seminole Golf Club.

After several months of confinement at Colonial Hills Nursing Home in Maryville, Wynn suffered a fatal stroke there on May 23, 1992. He was survived by his wife, Lola K. Wynn; his daughter, Janet Snyder; a son, Richard R. Wynn; and his stepdaughter, Carol Barto. After services conducted by Dr. Kenneth L. Carder at Church Street United Methodist Church, he was interred in Highland Memorial Cemetery.

As Barbara Aston-Wash observed in her lengthy profile of our subject (Knoxville News Sentinel, Oct. 8, 1989), “Herman D. ‘Breezy’ Wynn hit Knoxville with the force of a hurricane – a good wind as it turned out for the city.”

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