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From Farm to Flight: O.K. Moore ’59 Follows His North Star

Wilson College of Textiles aerial view at sunset with Raleigh skyline visible

By Emma Ross

When O.K. Moore started at NC State, he would not have predicted that following his 1959 graduation he would begin a lifelong career in the helicopter industry. He wouldn’t have envisioned himself studying textiles, either.

Now, Moore and his wife, Marsha, are helping provide unexpected opportunities for students just like him.

Taking Opportunity

Like a lot of North Carolinians, Moore’s life began on a farm. His father’s tobacco farm, to be exact.

“In those days, the work on a tobacco farm was all manual. The most modern tool we had was a hoe,” Moore said. “And I didn’t like tobacco farming. So I knew early on that I needed to learn more than I already knew, and NC State was a technical school.”

Moore originally enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, planning to pursue animal husbandry. The summer after his first year he worked at a dairy farm and, following his sophomore year, he spent a particularly dry summer working on his family’s tobacco farm again. These experiences proved to Moore that farming just wasn’t for him. By the time he returned for school his junior year, he was enrolled in what is now the Wilson College of Textiles.

“When I went to textiles, everything was mechanical and very sophisticated. Just the technology, compared to raising tobacco in the ‘40s and ‘50s, was exciting.”

During the time Moore was in school, NC State required men to do two years of ROTC. But if you stayed on to do the full four years and took a commission, you were officially committed to serve after graduation.

It goes to show that you should never ignore a good opportunity.

Upon his graduation in 1959, Moore was ready to serve, having completed four years of ROTC and commissioned as a second lieutenant. The U.S. Army was also offering to send service members to flight school in exchange for three years of active duty — an offer that Moore accepted.

“For me, someone who had never even been in a plane, to learn how to fly helicopters? At the time, I didn’t think it would change my career path or impact my life,” Moore said. “I thought I would leave for three years and then return for a job in textiles. I just saw it as an opportunity I couldn’t ignore.”

But it turned out, helicopters were not just an opportunity — they were a passion. Working in a field that was barely 25 years old was thrilling. Moore wanted to stay in the helicopter industry as the technology got better and the field expanded: “There was so much to look forward to.”

Moore insists that there was no magic that put him on this path, but simply a challenge to always follow his north star.

“It just turned out that the star looked like aerospace instead of textiles,” he said.

When he returned from active duty, Moore decided to apply to Bell Helicopters in Fort Worth, Texas. He got the job and worked there until his retirement, spanning multiple departments: first as a pilot, but eventually expanding his helicopter knowledge into engineering and marketing. The career also landed him a chance encounter with his future wife.

Marsha was a “born and raised Fort Worth girl” and a flight attendant at the time. They met when visiting the food center in the middle of their apartment complex, a hub for a lot of the airline workers. Now, they have been married for 58 years.

“It goes to show that you should never ignore a good opportunity,” Moore said. “You never know what unexpected things could happen.”

Giving Back

Moore is not sure exactly how his first gift to NC State came about. He assumes the Alumni Association reached out at some point.

But while he does not remember how he became a donor, he does remember why: the university’s impact on him.

“After I graduated, I reflected back on my time at NC State. Before then, I wasn’t as engaged with the world around me — we didn’t have television, phones or personal computers. But the university is what allowed me to begin to see how big the world is.”

Moore continued to give year after year — his first gift was in 1964. His focus was on the two colleges he was a part of and the Alumni Association, recognizing his own roots at the university and the importance of continuing to connect with this community.

[NC State] is what allowed me to begin to see how big the world is.

After O.K.’s retirement from Bell Helicopters, the Moore family moved back to North Carolina. When he and his sister decided to sell the family farm, Moore decided a fitting way to use the proceeds would be to give more generously to organizations he felt passionate about.

That’s why Moore added to his annual gift by beginning to direct an IRA distribution and including his areas of interest at NC State in his will. “There are certain things I like to see prosper: education, my church, veteran services . . . people who do good for the community. I can’t give five or ten thousand to these places, but I do what I can.”

And for him, planned giving is a no brainer.

“Most gifts you just have to write the check. But with IRA distributions, someone else even does that part. You combine tax benefits plus making a great gift? To me, the choice is easy,” Moore said.

He graduated 63 years ago, but Moore plans to continue giving to NC State. He also continues to send high schoolers in his neighborhood and church to explore the options at his alma mater.

“NC State opened the world to me at 19 years old. If anyone is considering coming here — they should,” he said.

To learn more about how gifts through your IRA or estate plan can support your passion areas at NC State, go to ncsugift.org.

This post was originally published in Giving News.