Henry Clay Presnell was born on July 31, 1917 the second oldest of seven children. His parents, Charlie C. and Margaret (Maggie) Hancock Presnell, raised their large family on a barber's salary in their modest Seagrove, North Carolina home.
Clay served in the army prior to WWII in Honolulu, HI. After his enlistment, he served as a reservist until he was called back to active duty in February, 1941. He served at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for three years as a fireman before going overseas. His thirteen month long tour of duty included France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia. While serving in Europe, he was attached to the 3rd Army 40th Field Artillery group. Once, while Clay was trudging through battlefields in France, he saw a beautiful herd of white cattle. At that moment he fell in love with Charlois cattle and vowed that if he returned to the States, he would eventually own at least one of the beautiful creatures.
Clay returned to his North Carolina home a decorated soldier. He achieved the rank of Master Sergeant and received an Oak Leaf Cluster and the Bronze Star Medal. After his honorable discharge, Clay began overseeing the daily operation of a service station and grocery store.
In 1949, Clay closed the service station in Seagrove, but he retained the refrigerated meat counter from the grocery store. This would prove to be a very wise decision
Prior to the closing of the grocery store, Ivey Luck, a local entrepreneur opened a small cannery in Seagrove which was open to the public for canning garden produce and meats raised on local farms. Alfred Spencer operated the cannery for Luck. In order to provide better service to their customers, Luck and Spencer purchased the meat counter from Clay but were unable to pay for the purchase. Clay exchanged forgiveness of the debt for an ownership interest in the cannery. A partnership was formed which was first known as Mountain View Cannery. Clay and Alfred served as the research and development team many times trying different vegetables and meat and also experimenting with canning methods. They found a niche with canned pinto beans which were slow cooked and seasoned with pork – just like mama made! These beans were a hit with families who enjoyed the flavor of slow-cooked pinto beans but without the time investment.
By the 1950's Luck's Beans were found in many pantries across the South. A plant was also being operated in Aberdeen, North Carolina. The canning process was similar, however, the item being canned in this plant was not pintos – it was sweet peaches from the Sandhills of North Carolina. C.C. Smith was in charge of the Aberdeen operation. After Mr. Smith entered the partnership, the cannery was incorporated and the name was changed to Luck's Incorporated.
The 1950's brought changes for Clay's personal life as well. In July, 1954, Wavie Mabe Kesler was sitting on the front porch of her parent's Ether, North Carolina home when a long black car pulled up in the yard. Wavie and her three and a half year old son, Paul, had moved back home after Wavie's divorce from Paul's father. A tall, well dressed stranger emerged from the car and Wavie mistook him for a visitor who had come to see her father. Wavie had forgotten about the conversation she had earlier with her younger brothers about the handsome man who ran the plant where their friends worked. In that conversation, they had told Clay about how pretty Wavie was and he had told them he would be by to visit her on Friday. At the time of the conversation, Wavie wasn't particularly interested in the stranger as she already had a boyfriend. When Clay arrived that Friday, she spent the next hours talking to Clay on the front porch. They decided to take a drive to a local dining establishment, Blake's Restaurant, in Biscoe to share the first of many meals together. At the end of the evening, Clay made another date – this time, for dinner at the Plantation Supper Club in Greensboro. This was a very special date because the restaurant was frequented from time to time by movie stars visiting the area.
Alfred Spencer sold his share of Luck's Incorporated in 1957 due to health reasons. During his time in the partnership, he saw Luck's grow from a local cannery reserved for local farm owner's use to a viable business with dual locations and a large employer of Seagrove's residents.
Wavie and Clay dated for three and a half years. Paul was seven years old and a first grader in school when they married in 1957. They built a house on Nolan Avenue in Asheboro and began their lives together.
In the early 1960's Clay began Kenwood Farms in the Michfield Community in southern Randolph County. Clay was able to realize his dream of owning not just one Charolais, but rather an entire herd of them. One bull in the herd was an import from the fields of France where Clay had served during World War II. Many times, Clay's cattle won honors at cattle shows. “Royal Standout” was crowned grand champion at the North Carolina and South Carolina State Fairs and then went on to take first place in the Eastern National Cattle Competition. Clay also owned a race horse by the name of “Kenwood Princess." With the increased attention Clay's cattle and horses received, it became evident that they both needed to be present at the farm to keep it running smoothly. In 1967, Wavie and Clay moved to Kenwood Farm to begin their full time ranching career.
Also, in 1967, Luck's Incorporated merged with American Home Products, Inc. in October via a stock swap. This swap catapulted the three partners into financial success rarely experienced by any other resident of Randolph County. In exchange for their interests in Luck's Inc., the partners were given shares of the publicly traded American Home Products stock. At that time, American Home Products made such items as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Advil, Crunch and Munch, Pam cooking spray, and Robitussin.
Clay and Wavie became the largest private landowners in Randolph County and thus began their philanthropic efforts. They donated land to many worthy causes such as the Burn Center in Durham, North Carolina and Habitat for Humanity. They also gave money to organizations like the North Carolina Zoo, the YMCA of Randolph County, Southwestern Randolph High School, Hospice of Randolph County, Randolph Hospital and many local churches. Many times their donations were made anonymously as Clay and Wavie did not feel comfortable with the attention they received when donations were made publicly.
Clay passed away on July 27, 1991. Since his death in 1991, Wavie has continued to give to the community. In the mid 1990's land and money were given to create the H. Clay Presnell Park – a park in the community of Seagrove that hosts softball games, concerts, and serves as a local gathering place for Seagrove's residents. Wavie has also contributed to the success of Randolph County's Relay for Life and is a flagship sponsor of Operation Red Sleigh in Seagrove. In 2004, Wavie, along with her daughter-in law, Linda, and grandson, Kevin, created the H. Clay and Wavie M. Presnell Foundation, Inc. Their goal was to create an eternal way for the family to give back to the community who has given them so much. This foundation continues to make generous donations since its inception to well-deserving charities in Randolph County and has affected many lives in the process.