Student and alumni at the University of Texas rallied over the weekend around a former fixture at the campus’ Texas Union, raising more than $27,000 for the man known fondly to thousands as “Junior.”
Ishmael Mohammed Jr., better known as “Junior the Wendy’s Guy,” was the Rachmaninoff of the register, holding the record for taking the most orders and sales within a 30-minute span, 246 orders for $1,035 — or one order every 7.3 seconds.
The subject of a short documentary, Junior took jockeying a register to the next level, slapping his thumbs against the register’s colorful keyboard with lightning-fast speed and eagle-eyed precision while encouraging customers with high fives and exclamations of “Touchdown!” as they ordered junior bacon cheeseburgers and ice teas.
“Odds are if you went to UT in the last 15 years, you know this guy,” said Benjamin McPhaul, a 2011 graduate.
McPhaul was shocked to find Junior out on the streets Thursday night asking for money. McPhaul and his fiancée had just left a concert at the Cactus Cafe when Junior approached him. At first they didn’t recognize Junior, but then they realized who he was.
Junior is homeless. After he left Austin in 2012 to return to New York City, his mother died and he was left out on the streets, McPhaul said. McPhaul wanted to help Junior more than the free meal he offered and Junior turned down.
On Friday morning, McPhaul set up a gofundme account for Junior with a goal of $2,000. He put out the word to his Facebook friends, and by Friday night, the fundraising goal had been smashed. The effort spawned the hashtag #SaveJunior on Twitter. Posts pleading to help Junior turned up on Reddit, and McPhaul’s original Facebook post has been shared more than 5,500 times. More than 1,400 people have chipped in donations, leaving encouraging messages on Junior’s gofundme page.
“I feel really lucky to give a little bit to someone who has given so much to others. Good luck out there Junior!!,” wrote one donor who gave $100. Another referred to Junior as “the fastest draw in the West (Campus).”
McPhaul had lunch with Junior on Saturday, letting the Texas Union icon know of the fundraising effort. He said Junior was most excited about the people who had reached out with job offers. McPhaul and Stephen Stephanian, the creator of the short documentary, gave a prepaid cellphone and 31-day bus pass to Junior.
McPhaul is also working with Junior’s caseworker at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless to figure out how to best use the money to help Junior.
Junior didn’t return an interview request made through McPhaul.
It astonished McPhaul at first to see how fast the fundraising effort caught fire. But now it makes more sense.
“Again I am not too terribly surprised because of the sheer volume of the people who know this guy,” he said. “I just loved the way he always kept a positive attitude — 99.99 percent of people would not have that attitude doing that job. It is kind of remarkable.”