CONOVER, Charles Bruce|
On April 8, 2014, the Greatest Generation lost another member and we lost a beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend. Charles Bruce Conover was 90 years of age, and although it is heartbreaking to lose him, we can't help but celebrate an amazing life well lived. Not just because his life was full of accomplishments and service to others, but because he lived every day with an excitement for learning, doing and sharing - and an unconditional love that was empowering to his family. A patriot and public servant, he lived his life with integrity and was an inspiration to all those who were fortunate to know him.
Born in Flora, Illinois on November 3, 1923, Bruce was the son of the late Charles Burton Conover and Mabel Leigh Weir. An only child who lost his Dad at the age of ten, Bruce learned about responsibility early in life. Growing up in Rock Island, Illinois instilled strong values of family, honor and faith, which led him to volunteer for military service in October 1942. Service to his country was something Bruce held sacred and proved to be a lasting influence in his life.
The four things he was most passionate about was his love for his family, his deep Catholic faith, his dedication to the military, and Barbershop Quartet singing (golf and painting are Honorable Mentions). He was so very proud of his family and never missed an opportunity to tell them whether it was a son or daughter, niece or nephew or grandchild...and he absolutely adored the love of his life, Mardella Mirr whom he married on May 22, 1948 in Moline, Illinois. Theirs was a perfect love story that spanned 65 years and was an inspiration to their four children.
A man of many interests, Bruce never stopped learning new things. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Military Science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University in Engineering and was a distinguished graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
He loved a challenge and possessed the work ethic to take it on and accomplish something of value. This was especially evident in his military career. First as a pilot in World War II where he flew P-40 and P-51 aircraft in the Army Air Corps and again as a Civil Engineer in the United States Air Force in which he was re-enlisted in 1957. His illustrious career took Bruce and his family from Rabat, Morocco to Hickam AFB in Hawaii with stateside assignments in between. He also served in Vietnam from 1967-68 as Chief of Operations and Maintenance at 7th Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Bruce's last assignment came in 1972 when he arrived at Bergstrom AFB in Austin, Texas where he assumed command of the 67th Civil Engineering Squadron. The sustained excellence achieved by the squadron while under his command gained Air Force wide recognition resulting in Bruce receiving the General Robert H. Curtin Award in 1975 for the best Air Force Civil Engineering Squadron. Bruce retired from active duty in 1978 with the rank of Colonel. Among his awards and decorations, he received the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Outstanding Unit Award Medal and numerous other service ribbons. It was his honor to serve his country through three wars and he had great respect for his fellow service members.
He dedicated himself to the support of veterans, which is what compelled him to serve on the Boards of numerous civic organizations, including the Austin Airport Advisory Board. He was active in supporting the City Referendum in 1993 to convert Bergstrom AFB into the new International Airport, and was a consultant for Espy-Houston Engineering in the initial development of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
With the loss of Bergstrom AFB, the Bergstrom-Austin Community Council, of which Bruce was a long time member, was concerned that Austin's 60,000+ military veterans had lost any say in government legislation that might affect them. As a result, Bruce organized and founded the Austin Military Service Coalition, which was comprised of over 77 local military organizations to communicate the interests and needs of Austin's military veterans to County, State, and Federal Government officials. He served as President of that organization for 13 years and remained an active member of the Board of Directors until his death. It remained one of his proudest accomplishments. Bruce was also a member of the Air Force Association and was awarded the Nat Henderson award in 1994 for outstanding patriotic achievements while serving with the Bergstrom-Austin Community Council.
A registered Professional Engineer in the State of Texas, Bruce was employed by the City of Austin holding several executive positions in the Budget and Public Works Department from 1978 until his retirement in 1988. Never one to sit idle, he dedicated himself to public service. He served as a Eucharistic Lay Minister with Santa Cruz Catholic Church in Buda where he and Mardi were faithful members, and as a County Fire Commissioner for the Travis County Emergency Services District 11 where he served for two years. Active in military organizations, Bruce served as Commander of the American Legion Post #326 and was a member of VFW Post #3377, the Austin Community Eagles Society, the Order of Daedalians, the Air Force Association and the Military Officer's Association of America. A proud member of the Rotary Club of Austin, he was awarded the Rotary Club of Austin "Service Above Self Award" in 2007. He served on the Rotary Board of Directors and other committees. He loved leading the membership in song and would often say, "...when you're singing, you ain't mad at nobody."
Music was part of who Dad was...he especially loved Barbershop Quartet music which he began singing in college. After the war, he and his friends put together a quartet called "The Vikings" and in 1953 won the acclaimed International Barbershop Quartet Championship. Bruce sang Lead and what was once a hobby turned into a part-time profession requiring the group to purchase their own plane to travel to their many concerts. The popular quartet made appearances all over the United States including New York's Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Civic Opera House, Philadelphia's Academy of Music, and Washington D.C.'s Constitution Hall as well as appearances on national TV. He remained active in Barbershop later in life attending many annual conventions. In 2003, The Vikings were celebrated once again in Montreal on the 50th Anniversary of their international championship. Seeing him perform again in front of 20,000 people was a treat his children and grandchildren will never forget. But then nothing about Bruce is forgettable.
He will forever be remembered for lighting up a room and making everyone feel important. For being a master storyteller who had a joke for every occasion. The consummate host who made everyone feel welcome. An avid golfer who will be missed at Onion Creek Country Club. And a talented watercolor artist who made sure his children had a painting for every wall in their homes. We have been forever transformed by who he was and what he stood for - it is a blessing we treasure.
Bruce is survived by his wife, Mardella Conover; daughter Marla Tatum (James); son Greg Conover (Joan); daughter Laurie Jensen (Richard); daughter Holly Coe (Gary); grandchildren: Jennifer Holmes (Christian), Mark Jensen (Cynthia), Jamie Tatum (Laura), Amanda Jensen, Joshua Conover, Christina Conover, Tyler Coe and Mitchell Coe. In addition, Bruce leaves behind 4 great grandchildren: Landen Jensen and Evelyn, Emma and Mia Holmes; as well as numerous beloved nieces and nephews.
A Family Visitation will be held 6:00-8:00 p.m. on April 14th at Harrell Funeral Home on Frontier Trail. A Funeral Mass will be held at 10:00 a.m. on April 15th at Santa Cruz Catholic Church in Buda. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to the Honor Flight Network or a veteran support organization of your choice. Condolences may be sent to: www.HarrellFuneralHomes.com .
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Apr. 13 to Apr. 15, 2014