Photo: Carl. F. Raba with Bunny Jean, Class of 1959, Texas A&M, before entering the U.S. Army
Carl F. Raba, co-founder of Raba Kistner, Inc., didn’t start out his college career thinking he was going to be an engineer. He went to Texas A&M (starting a family tradition) thinking he was going to be an architect.
At some point, he knew it wasn’t for him and so he dropped out and went back to San Antonio, and got a job with the HB Zachry Company, working on a power plant project. But Carl’s supervisor knew talent when he saw it and informed the owner, Mr. Pat Zachry, about Carl. And that’s how Carl Raba met Pat Zachry, the man that was to become his early mentor.
Carl was called to Mr. Zachry’s office downtown at the end of a long, hot workday. “I was very intimidated to meet a man who I already knew was a significant presence in the construction field. He wanted me to sit on his leather, wing-back chairs and I didn’t want to, just coming off of the power plant project," explained Carl.
Mr. Zachry asked Carl why he wasn’t still at Texas A&M continuing his education. Mr. Zachry was a graduate of Texas A&M, serving in various capacities, including the Board of Regents, for the Texas A&M institution for many years. “I told him that I had lost interest in architecture, but was interested in engineering,” said Carl.
Mr. Zachry inquired, “You need to go back to school. What can I do to help you?” Carl replied, “ I don’t want your money.” Mr. Zachry replied, “That’s good because I won’t give you anything you don’t earn.”
That conversation must have impressed Mr. Zachry because he began encouraging and mentoring the future Dr. Carl Raba at that moment.
Their relationship developed and continued. In fact, Mr. Zachry would drop in on Carl in his classes, just to see how things were going, when he was on campus for Board of Regents meetings.
One day, some years after Carl graduated from the school with a PhD in Civil Engineering, Mr. Zachry called him to say, “I want you to be on the Civil Engineering Advisory Board at Texas A&M. Meet me at my (airplane) hanger tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. and I’m going to fly you up to meet some people.” That’s how things got done with Mr. Zachry.
Photo: HB Zachry, taken in 1958
Mr. Zachry would put Carl on committees for years after that, including as Carl and Bunny were running their new business. “Mr. Pat (as Carl refers to him) got me on an advisory committee to bring Civil Engineering to the University of Texas at San Antonio. We felt that it was very important to have engineering education in San Antonio. Those engineers are now making a difference at Raba Kistner and other firms across the US.” said Carl. (Editor’s Note: This was many years before Dr. Raba would also help to bring a campus of Texas A&M to San Antonio.)
“We had a great relationship,” said Carl. “But what he never did was ask me to pay him back for anything. Well, I guess unless you count all of the committees and boards he put me on! However, had it not been for the time he gave me—who knows? It changed Bunny’s and my life. You can write a check to help someone and make money to replace it, but you can’t replace your time, which is more valuable to donate. I learned how he thought, then carried the obligation forward.”
Why did Mr. Zachry do this? “Mr. Pat just took an interest in people. Why did my supervisor talk to him about me? It’s because he knew Mr. Pat would care and would encourage me to return to college. How many other people did he mentor? Don’t know but he was an unusual person. Many years later, Mr. Pat was at Bunny’s and my 25th anniversary party, dancing with Bunny," finished Carl.