Baylor Legacy Award: Winston Wolfe

October 1, 2015

Awarded to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary service and philanthropy to Baylor or to causes that fit our mission as a Christian university

A Tennessee state decathlon champion in high school, Memphis native Winston Wolfe found himself at Baylor through his athletic ability, the appeal of Texas, and a chance meeting with a Baylor student.

"I was a reasonably good student and a good athlete, not a real social type, a little bit on the shy side, but I was very motivated when it comes to track," Wolfe says. "I wanted to go to a school where track was big, and Texas had a certain appeal to me. I'd never been to Texas, but just the image of it. I just liked the idea of going there and competing in track."

He met a Baylor student at a Memphis-area church function. The discussion included Baylor, track and Texas. Wolfe continues, "We started talking about Baylor there and that's kind of what put it all together: track, a desire to go to Texas, and meeting that Baylor student."

Although he was a well-rounded athlete, Wolfe discovered that his skill level in any one track and field event was relatively common in the extremely competitive Southwest Conference.

"I was not that good in any single event. I might have just barely competed in one or two events, but I really bit off more than I could chew and what's more--perhaps the biggest factor--they didn't even have the decathlon as an event in the conference meet.

"In the end, I only ran as a freshman, but I still loved Baylor," he says. "I remember being very impressed at the quality of people, being a freshman in Kokernot Hall and the people that I met. I made some good friends, a couple I stay in touch with today."

Upon his return to Memphis after Baylor, Wolfe's entrepreneurial spirit experienced a chance to grow into what would become a lucrative business.

"I always knew in the back of my mind that I would like to have my own business. I didn't know what. I was very fortunate things worked out the way they did," he says.

While working in a bank's management training program, Wolfe met the owners of Great Southern Corp., which imported general merchandise, and he began working for Great Southern. Along the way, the company began importing sunglasses.

"I just fell in love with that category, and I managed that line," he notes. "I chose the styles and worked up the literature and everything. After a while I decided to leave and start my own business, because I had found my passion."

"That would be my advice to anybody who wants to start their own business is find your passion first. Don't just look up something in the Yellow Pages," he says with a laugh.

In 1976, Wolfe began Olympic Optical using the second bedroom of his apartment as an office and a 10-by-30-foot rental space across the street as his warehouse. He imported sunglasses from Italy and Taiwan, then sold them to distributors. "I was a one-man company for a year," explains Wolfe.

He grew Olympic Optical to 30 employees and licensed brand names, including Smith and Wesson, Remington and others. Wolfe's glasses appeared on the shelves of many retailers, including Wal-Mart and Bass Pro Shop.

"We branched out from just sunglasses to safety glasses. Safety glasses under the Smith and Wesson name were--it was just like magic," Wolfe says. "People in the industry loved that name, and I was good at designing. I had nine design patents, which, of course, is different from a utility patent, but I had a good eye for it. We had made the right choices as far as licensing and did really well."

Wolfe sold his company in 2005, when he officially retired. He stays busy with a variety of philanthropic and civic pursuits in the Memphis area, such as his phenomenal home, Loxley Hall. The site of many events, At Home Memphis & Mid South magazine deemed it the most beautiful home in the mid-South.

His philanthropy extends to Baylor. He has supported a variety of campus initiatives, including the new Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium that opened in 2014. His support provided a 6,000-square-foot team facility containing the Winston Wolfe Clubhouse for the track and field program.

"The new track, I mean it's phenomenal. What's not to love?" he says. "I have always just loved track and loved Baylor, and I just felt passionate about it."

The best part of it for Wolfe is that he has been a consistent supporter of the track program for decades. Wolfe made possible a number of improvements, including the construction of The Winston Wolfe Clubhouse and the track entrance at the previous facility, the Hart-Patterson Track and Field Complex.

Wolfe also has endowed and supported entrepreneurship and athletic scholarships and The Winston Wolfe Distinguished Entrepreneur in Residence. He has received the Huckins Medallion from the University and has served on the Hankamer School of Business Board of Advisors. Wolfe’s daughter, Stephanie, BS '89, is a Baylor Bear as well.

Around his city, Wolfe has enjoyed hearing the Baylor name more often over the past few years.

"It's exciting to see Baylor become so successful athletically and scholastically. I'm always wearing a Baylor T-shirt when I go to the gym, and it is a pleasure when people say positive things to me about our University."