Secretary retires after 54 years of federal service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Laura L. Valentine
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
In 1957, a gallon of gas cost roughly 24 cents, Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" reached number one on the Billboard music charts and Mary Eary began her career in Federal civil service.

On Dec. 30, 2011, nearly 54 years later, Eary retired from her position as the secretary to the 22nd Mission Support Group commander. She holds the distinction of having the longest civil service career in McConnell history.

"We're all here to honor and say thank you to a patriot, a professional, and to a lot of us, a very good friend," remarked retired Col. Richard L. Wesche, former 22nd MSG commander, during Eary's retirement ceremony Jan. 6, 2012.

"When I graduated high school these were your options: you could get married ... I didn't want to get married at 16; you could be a nurse ... I didn't like the sight of blood; a school teacher ... I didn't want to be a school teacher because every woman school teacher I knew was an old maid, and I hoped to get married some day; so that only left being a secretary," said Eary. "Those were your choices."
After graduating the Executive Secretarial Program at the Draughons College of Commerce, Kansas City, Mo., Eary began her career in February 1957 at General Services Administration, Kansas City, as a clerk-typist. Between 1958 and 1965, Eary worked at various Air Force bases where her husband, Loy, was assigned.

In January 1965, she began working at McConnell. After assuming secretary/typist positions for several offices and squadrons, Eary became the secretary to the mission support group commander in 1980.

Working more than 40 years here, Eary watched the base evolve.

"There has been so many cool things here at McConnell," she said. "When the missiles went away, that was big. We went from missiles to KC-135s [Stratotankers] to B-1Bs [Lancers] and back to KC-135s again."

And like the changing of airplanes on the flightline, the number of personnel that have walked through her doors changed as well.

Just during her time at the mission support group, Eary groomed more than 100 commanders, deputy commanders, senior enlisted Airmen and executive assistants. She knew young lieutenants who rose through the ranks to retire as colonels; one is now a lieutenant general.

Filling the role of not just a secretary, Eary acted as a mother and teacher to many young officers. "There were so many of those young lieutenants, [who] I hear from now, that I had no idea I made an impression on then," she said.

Although her dedication to the military was never through an enlistment or commission, Eary has shown commitment to the Air Force and Team McConnell through her actions and involvement with various programs.

In 1991 Eary took ownership of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing Memorial Walk to ensure the program was properly handled. The walkway honors fallen Airmen once stationed at McConnell, whose families wish to dedicate a memorial in their name.

"There were 53 stones when we started out," she said. "Now we have 244."

Eary is also actively involved with the retiree association.

Each month she emails information and updates to almost 300 retirees and coordinates the monthly retiree luncheon, which has more than 70 attendees. Quarterly, she facilitates sending out a newsletter to more than 9,000 retirees across Kansas. And every October, she is a key planner for the Retiree Appreciation Day at McConnell.

Perhaps her biggest fear about retirement was what was going to be the driving forces to get up every day and what to do. "So every morning I get up, get ready and drive my granddaughter to school. That's the one big thing. It'll be doing things for the family that will keep me busy," she said.

Very few things have remained the same from 54 years ago. Old buildings no longer exist, friends have come and gone and gas costs more than $3 a gallon. After saying she could never sign her name to a commitment like the military, Eary has found herself to be part of that family anyway.

"I really planned to retire at 55, I had 30 years in, 38 to be exact, and I was going to do something different," she said. "But I liked what I was doing, I liked the people, I liked the lifestyle."