Bernie and Darlene Conway
Bernie attended grade school and high school at the Berwyn School in Gene Autry. High school revealed that he liked science and math but his main interest was basketball. Being adjacent to the Air Force Base, he developed a keen interest in the Air Force and loved to watch the aircraft takeoff and land near to their home. He also had developed and interest in electronics; tinkering with radios and TV’s. It was mostly just changing tubes and replacing speakers and switches but his mother noted this and bought him some electronics magazines. He read those magazines and began to understand how electronics functioned somewhat but with no formal training his knowledge was limited. But the seed had been planted regarding the Air Force and electronics.
He did well with his high school studies but his focus was on basketball. The team played several times a week and every year they played in several tournaments including the MSC Tournament , thus his exposure to MSC. His senior year found a new coach on board. His name was Gayno Shelton, a graduate of MSC, who brought a more defense focused philosophy to the program. Thinking of the future he supposed that he wanted to go to college, play basketball, become a teacher-like most of his peers planned- and become a coach. However, his math teacher whose husband was an engineer, suggested that he should think about engineering instead of teaching. Another influence in his life was the school superintendent, Bill James, who also had attended MSC, said something one day that stuck with him. In the middle of a geography class he began to offer advice to the class about planning for future careers. His simple statement: “Don’t be afraid to aim too high” stuck with Bernie forever. It was a bump of encouragement that maybe this farm boy could go to college and do something more than he imagined at the time. He had no idea how he could finance a college education.
His Dad was somewhat ambivalent about his attending college but his Mom was very supportive and suggested that he should pursue a career as a Minister. Bernie was active in their church but was not interested in that career choice. Another nudge for college was the fact that his Dad had started to operate a Grade B dairy-selling milk to the cheese factory in Sulphur. His Dad would get up early in the morning and start the milking process and then head off to his day job. Bernie, his brother, and mother would finish it prior to the two boys catching the school bus. The process would start anew as soon as the boys arrived home from school and his dad would help finish up when he came home from work. The work itself wasn’t anything new but the getting up early was not pleasing for a teenager. It was also an everyday routine. Milking 30 to 35 cows twice a day had to be done; even if the electricity failed and the electric milkers were replaced with hands! Many years later Bernie would remark that the dairy business was likely one of the biggest factors in his deciding to go to college
Bernie did not have a clue about the engineering profession so he discussed it more thoroughly with his math teacher. He was definitely interested but was not sure that he had the educational tools, finances, or discipline to pursue such a rigorous educational task; but he would give it a try. His teachers were supportive and his coach took the initiative to get him a basketball tryout at Eastern and MSC. He was offered a scholarship at both schools and chose to attend MSC. He joined the MSC freshman class in the fall of 1961 with a great deal of trepidation; enrolled in pre-engineering and began his classes.
His scholarship covered some of his expenses and he had another small academic scholarship from the Ardmore Elks Club. Those scholarships plus the money he had saved from working the wheat harvest that summer would get him through the financial challenges of his first semester. His MSC athletic scholarship required that he work several hours a week except during basketball season. He was assigned to work in the library under the guidance of Ms Mahoney. The classwork was challenging and required a tremendous amount of out of class homework(much more than he had experienced in high school) . After many weeks of basketball practice it became apparent that it was not in the best interest of his classwork to continue with the basketball. He discussed this with the Dean and the Coach and they agreed he could keep the scholarship and work his job assignment. He maintained his academic success and was allowed to continue this arrangement for the remainder of his time at MSC.
Bernie’s academic success would not have been achieved had it not been for the tutoring and one on one assistance from the instructors as well as fellow classmates. Alloway, Zimmerman, Shryock, Calvert, and Draper were instructors who always had time to help with understanding the hang-ups encountered with the math, physics, and chemistry subjects. It was also of great benefit to have had roomates and classmates to study with.
Bernie’s campus social life was minimal compared to most of the students. Nonetheless, he was selected to be the ROTC Cadet Colonel for the first semester of his second year and was elected Vice President of the Student Senate in his second year. He formed many friendships during his two years at MSC and still maintains several of those today.
Bernie credits his MSC experience with setting the stage for his successful educational experience at OSU as well as his enjoyable and successful career.
Bernie believes that he chose OSU over OU to continue his education because that was where his roommate and other friends were headed. He met and became friends with a group of Air Force officers who were working on an Electrical Engineering degree as part of their Air Force career, and became part of their study group. Several of these folks were avionics technicians and discussions about their work tweaked Bernie’s interest in aircraft avionics.
Based on his success at MSC he was able to acquire a scholarship at the OSU School of Electrical Engineering organization. He had financial assistance on his tuition in exchange for several hours of work per week. He was an assistant to graduate students doing research and professors. One of his assignments he was assisting a graduate student who was working on a very large analog computer. Here he was able to excite some of his electronics interests and learned to use some of the laboratory test equipment. Other assignments included grading homework and tests for some of the classes he had completed but it was not as much fun. It also afforded him some one on one tutoring when he needed help. Again, his social life was minimal since he spent most of his non class time working or in the library studying. His highlight at OSU was probably when he made the Presidents Honor Roll. It is still a mystery how he was able to get all “A” grades in a 20 hour load.
Graduating after taking a fifth semester, it was time to decide whether to pursue a graduate degree or join the workforce. His Draft Board made the decision for him! No additional Draft deferments were offered for graduate school. He only had a few weeks to secure a job in the defense industry or he would be at risk for the military draft. Fortunately there were many defense contractors offering jobs so he interviewed several and made the decision to go to work for McDonnell Aircraft Company in St Louis, Missouri.
The Vietnam war was in progress and the company was building F4 Phantoms at a rapid pace for the Air Force and Navy. Bernie’s job was to learn the avionics equipment and then support the troubleshooting of those systems once installed in the aircraft. Many of the other engineers preferred to do their troubleshooting from their desks but Bernie preferred hands on action on the aircraft. His success in this endeavor resulted in an assignment to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base for the development and flight test of the F4-E aircraft.
The Mojave Desert offered an environment that Bernie had never experienced before. No flying insects, a dry climate, cool nights, and lots of sunshine. This was a big change from Oklahoma and Missouri but Bernie fell in love with the high desert.
The Edwards assignment was followed by an assignment to the Pacific Missile Test Center at Pt Mugu Naval Base in Oxnard, California. Two significant things came of this assignment. The first was the exposure to electronic warfare and the second was meeting Darlene, his soon to be wife. The job was to flight test a new electronic warfare system in a Naval aircraft so the system could be deployed to Vietnam to help minimize the loss of Naval aircraft to the Surface to Air Missiles(SAMs) used by our North Vietnam enemy. He didn’t particularity care for the coastal weather but loved the job and made many new friends there. One of the folks that he worked with introduced him to Darlene. They hit it off well and soon decided to become partners for life. They were married in July of 1969 in Oakview, California.