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Giving Back

Charles Heilig Helps Weave Textiles’ Future through Service and Giving

Charles Heilig

By Stuart Hall

When Charles S. Heilig III was a little boy, he would accompany his father to work on an occasional Saturday. The young Heilig became fascinated by the manufacturing process which he first experienced at that furniture factory in High Point with his father.

“I always knew I wanted to be part of making something,” he said. “Even when I was really young it just felt like this is where my home should be.”

Heilig’s vision has formed an integral part of his success story. Today, he serves as president and chief executive officer of Parkdale, a global leader in yarn manufacturing, and president of the North Carolina Textile Foundation. NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles provided a path for Heilig to become the leader he is today.

Heilig, 50, who grew up in Greensboro and whose “father, sister and a whole series of uncles and cousins” attended NC State, was sold on following in their footsteps when Lennie Barton, who at the time served in the College of Textiles, spoke to Heilig’s high school physics class. Barton talked about the various job and scholarship opportunities NC State offered.

Heilig set off on a “five-year plan” from 1987-1992. While in Raleigh, Heilig saw the effects that a weak economy was having on the job market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The textiles school was touting a high percentage of job placements and attractive starting salaries, so he transferred into the Wilson College of Textiles.

It really warms my heart every minute that I am able to work to the benefit of the Wilson College of Textiles, because the college gave me assistance when I needed it, and I am here because they did. I know it and I owe it back.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute here. This is my hope,’” he said. “I didn’t have any money and grad school was not an option. I had to get into the market and quickly become self sustaining. The textile school provided a path for me.”

As for the other parts of his college years?

“It could not have been any better,” said Heilig before rattling off a litany of involvements that included being a resident advisor, playing intramural athletics, serving in student government and being a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. “If there was something to do or be a part of, I signed up.”

Heilig earned a Bachelor of Science degree, but the process may have been more fruitful than the end result.

“The College of Textiles prepared you for a career,” he said. “Not only do they educate you, but they also line up internships in different facets of the textile industry or international study abroad programs.”

The placement office helped Heilig secure an initial job with Sara Lee Knit Products, which is now known as Hanesbrands. He later moved on to Gastonia-based Parkdale Inc. where he has held various positions over a 25-year period, from plant manager to executive leadership.

Nearly a decade ago, Heilig’s mentor, Anderson D. Warlick, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Parkdale Inc., who is also a former NC Textile Foundation president, imparted a bit of wisdom. Warlick told Heilig that he was at a point in his career where he should give his “time, talents and treasures back to the people who were important” to him. He asked Heilig to take an active role in the NCTF.

Heilig heeded Warlick’s advice.

“It’s an honor,” said Heilig of his time with the NCTF, “but it really warms my heart every minute that I am able to work to the benefit of the Wilson College of Textiles, because the college gave me assistance when I needed it, and I am here because they did. I know it and I owe it back.”

Heilig and his wife, Christa H. Heilig, have also given back by endowing the Charles S. Heilig III Scholarship. That, too, has come full circle.

Before Christmas, the NCTF called Heilig to tell of receiving a letter from one of Heilig’s college friends of nearly 30 years ago. During their time at NC State, Heilig loaned the friend some money — “hundreds, not thousands,” Heilig said — in a time of need.

The sender had not forgotten the gesture, writing that he would never be able to repay Heilig’s generosity figuratively, but wanted to start with a gift to the scholarship fund that was 10 times the amount of Heilig’s initial loan.

This sense of paying forward is one reason why Heilig believes the Wilson College of Textiles is well poised for the coming years.

“I think the College of Textiles and the opportunity for textiles in this hemisphere is going to continue to be vast, and broaden. … And the college will meet the needs of the market,” Heilig said. “There is no doubt that [Wilson College of Textiles Dean Dr. David Hinks’] strategic plan addresses that very, very well.”