Walter Blanks Jr. and his wife, Sylvia, often visited the McDonald’s at Garners Ferry Road near Fort Jackson after it opened in the early 1960s.
“We drove from Eau Claire when it first opened,” he said, referring to Columbia’s first set of golden arches.
When Sylvia died in April 2010, Blanks started coming to the restaurant – the third incarnation of a McDonald’s there – twice a day, nearly every day, for coffee in the morning and a hamburger at lunch.
“Nine o’clock and noon on the dot,” store manager Jessica Carter said.
The visits are so regular that when the World War II veteran missed a couple of days, the restaurant sent someone to his house to check on him. And after the October 2015 flood, the restaurant sent someone to his house behind the Dorn VA Medical Center to make sure he was okay.
The staff there call him “Pops.”
On Friday, Blanks’ 90th birthday, his daughter, Kaye Simpson, arranged a surprise birthday party.
“I’ve been up to my eyebrows in this,” Simpson said. “I’ve been lying to this man for two months.”
The party was complete with balloons, cake, a commemorative photo book and a plaque adorned with a “key” to the restaurant, among other gifts.
He was honored by present and former employees and managers, other customers who made a special trip in, even members of the Columbia Police Department.
“Where’s the high sheriff?” he exclaimed when he walked in the store. “I’m not going top be arrested am I?”
Franchise owner Brad Valdes said the regular visits are a joy for the employees because of Blanks’ sunny disposition and sharp mind.
“Pops always bring us smiles with his attitude,’ he said
Blanks was joyful at the surprise, and a little teary-eyed when they unveiled the cake.
“It’s like a family here,” he said. “The people are very good to me. They’re just good people.”