Joseph “Ward” McConnell, Jr., a former member of the Association’s Board of Directors whose distinguished entrepreneurial career began with a business selling genuine Alaskan moose turds, died Monday, May 31. He was 89.
McConnell was chairman of member company Art’s Way Manufacturing from 2002 to 2015. Son Marc McConnell succeeded him in that role and remains active in the Association.
The elder McConnell’s tenure at Art’s Way is a single chapter in a career narrative like no other.
McConnell’s first job was on his family’s farm, followed by a stint in the U.S. Army (when he was stationed in Alaska and launched his moose turd business). He later opened a used car lot, sold farm equipment, founded his own farm equipment company (McConnell Manufacturing Co.), dabbled in politics as a city mayor and candidate for state office, and bought a product line from Massey Ferguson.
McConnell acquired or controlled a number of other manufacturing companies that made everything from ladders to portable scientific laboratories. He loved venturing into new arenas, always thrilled to bring a struggling company to life, his obituary said.
Among highlights in his illustrious career were making his own tractor: the McConnell-Marc 1000, a tribute to his son; ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the exchange’s 40th anniversary; and introducing the industry’s first tractor with a computerized engine while leading McConnell Tractors.
“Historically a bit slow with compliments, Ward never forgot that he did not do this alone and valued the commitment of his employees,” his obituary said. “He would grow into a kind mentor and appreciative boss and was often encouraged to write a book. Ward was still found at his office at age 88. His keen intellect, relentless determination, fierce independence, and authenticity were his greatest gifts.”
McConnell is survived by his wife Linda Loucks McConnell, daughters Shelly, Kim, Amy, Francis, and Melissa, son Marc, a sister, grandchildren, and many friends.
In 2017, Lessiter Media Editor/Publisher Mike Lessiter recorded an interview with Ward and son Marc McConnell for the How We Did It: Conversations with Ag Equipment’s Entrepreneurs podcast series. You can listen to his story in his own words here. Full obituary here.