From an early age, Julian “Carle” Abernathy, a glass industry stalwart and newly named Colorado Glazing Contractors Association (CGCA) “Legend,” wanted a seat at the table.

Change starts from the inside, his father would tell him. “You have to get to that table to make a difference.”

From an early age, Julian “Carle” Abernathy wanted a seat at the table.

“I’ve always had to position myself to find a way to get to the table,” recalls Abernathy. “Sometimes, you have to do things that might appear to be succumbing to things that you might not necessarily endure, but in the end, it would be worthwhile.”

Abernathy’s desire to leave his mark followed him from his childhood in Champaign, Ill., to Robeson’s Department Store, to college, to the jungles of Vietnam, and throughout his career in the glass and glazing industry.

Can of Peaches

Uncle Sam knocked on Abernathy’s door in 1968. He became one of the 2.2 million American men called to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He expected to join the U.S. Army, but fate had other ideas. He instead served as an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps.

It was a trial by fire, he says. Boot camp taught him a lot. He learned that good looks and smarts could only get you so far.

“I learned that you had to perform and do what was necessary,” he says. “When I got to Vietnam, I was equipped to endure and deal with what came before me.”

And he had to deal with a lot. He says there were many challenges and days and nights when he cried more than he thought he could. He spent 13 months in country, thumping through thick vegetation, rain or shine, in humid conditions that test the mettle of even the hardest men.

He remembers the rain and the mud vividly. It always seemed to be wet there, he says. He recalls nights when the rain was so cold he wouldn’t move lest the cold water found its way in.

He also recalls one particularly intense firefight. A barrage of gunfire poured into Abernathy’s unit during a Viet Cong attack, forcing them to the ground. Abernathy survived the opening salvo, but his pack took several rounds. He assumed he was uninjured until he felt a warm liquid drip down his face.

“Oh my gosh,” he recalls saying. “I think I’m hit.”

The liquid felt a lot like blood, he recalls, but it tasted sweet, which was odd. Blood isn’t sweet.

Much to his relief, the liquid turned out to be peach juice. A round had pierced through a can of peaches in his pack.

“I thought it was sweet blood,” he joked.

A Foot in the Door

Abernathy returned from Vietnam and got his old job back at Robeson’s and was later promoted to store superintendent. He recalls that the department store façade was mostly glass. And that glass always needed repairs. For that, Abernathy would call Bacon and Van Buskirk Glass.

The company’s then-president, the late Roy Van Buskirk, asked Abernathy one day if he would be interested in joining the glass business. No way that was happening, Abernathy said.

He told Van Buskirk there are two things he knows about glass: one is that it breaks, and the other is that it cuts you.

“There’s no way I would consider being in the glass business,” he says.

Family obligations said otherwise. He proceeded to join Bacon and Van Buskirk Glass and spent 12 years there. More than forty-five years later, he’s still in the glass business.

Rising Through the Industry

Abernathy wound his way through the glass industry. His stops included Swanson Gentlemen Co., Kolb Glass Co., General Glass, Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, Vitro America, JR Butler, Manko Window Systems, and Architectural Sales of Colorado.

Carle Abernathy says there is still room for improvement regarding diversity within the glass industry.

He also served as a board member and vice president of the CGCA.

“I’ve had a lot of good times in the industry,” he says.

He explains that he started to find his seat at the table while transitioning from General Glass to Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, where he was a regional architectural glass sales representative. He says the transitional challenges allowed him to step up and be recognized as a member of the industry instead of “just a salesperson.”

That recognition opened up numerous doors, including an introduction to Ted Hathaway, former CEO of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®.

“He was able to appreciate what I knew about the glass business,” he says.

Their relationship opened up opportunities for Abernathy, such as attending Columbia University and speaking at national sales meetings. He says both were highlights in a long, fulfilling career in the glass industry.

Overcoming Challenges

Abernathy agrees that there is still room for improvement regarding diversity within the glass industry.

He says his skin color led to challenges throughout his career but never stopped him from achieving his goals. He had to find his seat at the table, he says.

“It always made me do a little more,” he adds. “I worked harder. I had to present myself better. I even dressed better.”

He explains that the way to overcome the color barrier was to get people to know him. Once people looked past the color of his skin, they had no issues.

“I’m sure on the contract glazing side, [Black] people represent a decent number,” he says. “But there’s room for a lot more on the management and estimating side of the table.”

Organizations need to step up and implement more programs geared toward reaching out. Look outside the box, he says. Find speakers who can relate.

“We need to figure out a way to get individuals to recognize that this is a good industry,” he says.

6 Comments

  1. Hello “My Friend”. It was always a pleasure to spend time with you Carl, but I will always remember our road trip from Pittsburgh to St Louis after 911.
    We talked about so many things, but talking about family was the best.
    Are U still working?
    Guess Who??

  2. Carle is a true legend in our space and I am grateful for his spectacular ability to transfer knowledge. Man of faith and family that deserves every nod of the head from everyone in our industry.

  3. What a great interview and story. I’m happy to have met, gotten to know and interact with Carle.

  4. Carl is and will always be a man of great character and integrity. It’s what has defined him all the years I have known him.
    A real “class act” professional and genuine and humble person. So grateful Carl that we have crossed paths over the years.
    How I remember those early years at HGP Industries(OldcastleBE). Great people, great company, and great friends!

  5. Carl is a true gentleman. Carl Never forgets a face or name. Carl is always a pleasure to meet and converse with. Carl always takes time to stop and chat with people during industry events and alike. It is my pleasure to have Carl and a business Acquaintance. What a great post regarding a great man.

  6. It has been one of the pleasures of my life to not only compete against J. Carle Abernathy, but to to become his friend. And now, to connect again, as he continues his dauntless career in our industry. There are so few people like Carle anywhere. Incredibly kind and classy. Congratulations on everything you have accomplished my friend.

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