04/21/04 — The spotlight: A singular journey from a tobacco patch

View Archive

The spotlight: A singular journey from a tobacco patch

The boy covered with sticky tobacco gum, bending his back and picking leaves in sweltering heat, wouldn’t finish college. But one day he would lead a successful campaign for the United Way of Wayne County.

His father died when he was 5 and he lacked the prospects of some of his classmates at the old New Hope High School. But he would become the principal stockholder and chief executive of one of North Carolina’s biggest wholesale distributing companies.

The year after he graduated in the first class at Eastern Wayne High School in 1970, he went to work full time at the old Southern Wholesale Co. He had been unable to generate interest in courses he was taking at Wayne Community College.

His job was warehouseman, pulling orders for Southern Wholesale’s customers. Ten years later, he had been promoted, step by step, to general manager of what is now Southco Distributing. The company had about 20 employees when Sherwin Herring went to work there. Now it has more than 10 times that.

What brought success to Herring is a model for any young person. It was a willingness to work hard to achieve a goal, and it was determination.

Herring mentioned determination the other night to a ballroom crowded with admirers. He referred to the resolve of the Boy Scouts of America as an example. The Scouts have adhered to their spiritual and patriotic independence against attacks from all sides. Herring said he admired the Scouts for standing firm.

He has been a steadfast supporter of the Scouts for more than 20 years, and it was the Torhunta District of the Boy Scouts of America that put him in the spotlight Monday night.

Herring was picked for the district’s Distinguished Citizen Award, which is presented annually at a banquet where people pay for tickets to watch the honoree get roasted, all in fun.

Invariably, it ends somberly, with the acrid jokes melting into sincerity. So it was Monday night.

At the end of the program, Herring talked about the Scouts, for whom he has raised $184,000 over the years through the Southco wholesale company’s golf tournament, and he shared with two women the credit for his personal success — his wife, Becky, and his mother Emma.

On that farm at Parkstown, Emma Herring nourished her children’s spirits. The family went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. “And if there was a revival,” Herring said, “we went to that, too.”

Herring’s spiritual life has lasted. One of his best friends, his first roaster, in fact, was Jerry Mitchell, pastor of Garris Chapel United Methodist Church where Herring is an active member.

The other community work that he has done has been focused largely on improving the lives of children who live in unfortunate circumstances. In addition to the United Way and the Scouts, he has helped guide the Boys and Girls Club, the Salvation Army and many other civic organizations.

Through the banquet Monday night, more than $90,000 was raised for the Scouts. It was held at the Walnut Creek Country Club, not many miles from that Parkstown farm, and not many years, either, in the broad perspective.

What a poor farm boy has accomplished in those years is remarkable.

Published in Editorials on April 21, 2004 12:04 PM