2004 Pioneer Leadership Award

2004-AbernethyD.S. “Doc” Abernethy

Doc was born April 15, 1920, in Chattanooga, Tenn., moving to Alton, Ill., early in life. While growing up he worked for his father, a civil engineer. Doc’s job was to work on river barges dredging the Mississippi River.

He attended the University of Illinois studying engineering for two years. With the untimely death of his father and the outbreak of World War II he left the University and joined his mother at the family home in Florida.

From 1940 to 41 Doc worked as a civil engineer on the Miami airport building highways, runways, and seawalls. In 1941 he became involved in the war effort working at night building B-25, B-26, and B-29 bombers in Memphis.

He started his own one-man machine shop making the azimuth ring gear that drove the gun turrets in B-25 bombers. Doc perfected the ring gear producing a better gear than the Air Force had ever had solving a problem of gun turrets jamming.

After the war Doc started Borax, a furniture company manufacturing aluminum tables and chairs. In 1946 Doc bought 2,200 acres in the Mississippi Delta where he grew cotton and rice losing out to the boll weevil in 1950.

At that point in his life he began a career in the dairy industry in ice cream sales with Jim Merritt at the Southern Ice Cream Company in Memphis. The company opened a Kansas City Division in 1951.

During 1958 the Merritt Foods Company was formed and manufactured ice cream novelties, the Bomb Pop having been created a few years earlier.

When Merritt Foods was sold to Southland Corporation in 1981 Doc became manager of new products and new ventures for the company. During his early days in sales and product development Doc “felt helpless” at the hands of other brands of frozen novelties such as Popsicle, Eskimo Pie, and Drumstick.

He dreamed of exclusivity and new and daring products that no one else had.

Doc came up with a list of companies that he thought had potential in the ice cream novelty field. This led him to the Dole Tech Center in San Jose, Calif., where he sold the idea of the Dole Fruit ‘N Juice Bar.

Other novelties such as Pink Panther, Ghostbusters, Slimer, Teenage Ninja Turtles, A&W Root Beer Float, Squirt Citrus Pops, Bozo, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, and Tazmanian Devil produced retail sales amounting to millions of dollars for Southland Corporation.

Wells Blue Bunny obtained the rights to the Bomb Pop in 1992 and Doc worked with Wells to obtain the rights to produce most of the novelties he created many of which are still available throughout the world.

In 1970 Doc and six others founded the National Association of Ice Cream Vendors in Kansas City. It expanded into the International Association of Ice Cream Vendors which is still going strong.

In 1992 Doc received the Mickey Swartz Award for his work in the ice cream vending business. During that year, in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, his wife Barbara, an artist, drew the portrait of Doc that hangs in the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors. Following Doc’s death in 1994 the International Association of Ice Cream Vendors honored him by establishing an annual college scholarship in his name.

Doc married Barbara Ann Thomson in 1942 and they have four children.

The Missouri Dairy Products Association nominated Doc to receive the Dairy Hall of Honors Pioneer Leadership Award.