IHOP
IHOP in Tamarac {photo by Jen Russon}

By: Jennifer Russon

According to servers and manager Kelly Garay, the IHOP in Tamarac is a favorite among retirees, with quite a few “regulars” popping in for pancakes.

“We get a lot of single customers in here. I always tell my servers to be extra friendly — make the moment count for our older patrons, who might not talk to anyone but us all day,” she said.

The long-time IHOP manager, who began working for the restaurant in 2000, said she was touched to learn one of their “party of one” patrons was on the receiving end of a random act of kindness.

Dubbed a “Secret Santa,” the anonymous IHOP diner picked up the check for 76-year-old Wayne Whelchel when he stopped in to refuel after blood work and a doctor-ordered fast.

“I hope the person responsible reads this and knows how much I appreciate what they did today, around noontime at IHOP in Tamarac,” Whelchel wrote in a social media post.

While his Secret Santa’s identity remains a mystery, Whelchel’s November 30 post is approaching 100 comments on Nextdoor from others who share his Coral Springs zip code.

IHOP
Wayne Welchel of Coral Springs.

Nearly all the comments express how touching a story Whelchel’s is and that it comes at just the right time, as the holidays get underway and people prepare to put a harrowing year behind them.

The never-married Whelchel is a retired podiatrist. He has lived in Ramblewood South for 25 years and said it’s just he and his poodle, Shadow.

Having been diagnosed with polyneuropathy many years ago, Whelchel said his balance was affected and forced him to retire early.

When he ran his medical practice in Jacksonville, Whelchel paid it forward to his employees, awarding tens of thousands of dollars in year-end bonuses whenever he could.

He was also a big giver when he lived in the Dominican Republic, and destitute children approached him for change.

Whelchel said he thought of some of these people when the secret Santa suddenly treated him at IHOP.

“Tears came to my eyes when the waitress told me someone took care of my bill,” Whelchel said.

He said that he gave in his more plentiful years, simply because he could, and that it honestly never occurred to him to expect anything in return.

“Giving back was just something instilled in me by my parents beginning 76 years ago, “ said Whelchel, adding, “I never realized until now how good being on the receiving end makes you feel. It’s very humbling.”

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