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United Fund: Harry Akin

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1960s

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    • About the video
    • Gordon Wilkison Gordon Wilkison
    • Harry Akin Harry Akin
    • Texas Locations
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    In the 1960s, the United Community Funds and Communities of America (later known as United Way of America and now United Way Worldwide) produced promotional television spots with prominent Austinites voicing their support for the civic organization and its fundraising campaign. This spot features restauranteur Harry Akin, founder of the Night Hawk restaurant chain and Mayor of Austin from 1967 to 1969. With nearly 1,800 offices around the globe, United Way is a non-profit organization that mobilizes a coalition of local charitable communities in order to pool efforts in fundraising and support. Their focus largely rests on matters of education, income, and health.
    Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation.  At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades - during the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
     
    A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
     
    Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
     
    Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
     
    Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.
    Austin restauranteur Robert Harry Akin, Jr. was born on September 3, 1903, in Taylor, Texas. After attending the University of Texas at Austin, he traveled west with a theatrical tent show in the hopes of making it in Hollywood. Eventually giving up on the idea of an acting career, Akin returned to Austin in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. On Christmas Eve, he opened the first Night Hawk restaurant, turning an abandoned fruit stand on South Congress and Riverside into a small burger joint. The following year, Akin opened a second Night Hawk on Guadalupe Street across from the university.
     
    The chain steadily grew through the early 1970s, expanding to include seven restaurants in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. The company also began a frozen food enterprise, distributing its signature Top Chop’t Steaks to local supermarkets. 
     
    While the restaurants were a favorite among Austinites for their quality of food and service, the chain also developed a favorable reputation for its employee benefits and management training program as well as its equal-opportunity hiring practices, employing and promoting both minorities and women. Akin’s restaurants were also the first in Austin to serve black customers. (As a result of his successful record of integrated hiring practices, Akin was invited in 1963 to join a panel of businessmen conferring with President John F. Kennedy about the desegregation of public facilities.) 
     
    Akin died on April 16, 1976, in Austin. His widow, Lela Jane Akin, took over Night Hawk Foods, Inc., but the company faltered without its founder. Four of the seven restaurants closed within four years of Akin’s passing, while the original shut its doors in 1989. In the 1990s, the company sold the remaining two restaurants as well as its frozen food division. One of the two restaurants, the Frisco Shop in north Austin, however, was purchased by Akin’s nephew and a former Night Hawk manager, who seek to continue Akin’s legacy.