Joseph “Ward” McConnell, Jr. of Fort Myers, FL and Kinston, NC passed away at the North Carolina Veterans Home in Kinston, NC on May 31, 2021 with family by his side.
He was preceded in death by his parents Joseph Ward McConnell, Sr. and Edith Smith McConnell, and sister Muriel McConnell Bucci. He is survived by his wife Linda Loucks McConnell; a sister Meredith Sculli (The Villages, FL); daughters Shelly (Dan) Lindsey (Summerville, SC), Kim (Mark Flamendorf) McConnell (Raleigh, NC), Amy (Eric Derk) Francis (Newtown Square, PA), Melissa Francis (Washington, NC); son Marc McConnell (Kinston, NC); and grandchildren Shawn and Allison Lindsey, Olivia Francis, Henry and Charlotte Derk, Barron and Sydney McConnell.
Ward was born on July 30, 1931 on the family dairy farm in Prattsburgh, New York. Ward worked the farm and learned the value of hard work at a young age. He also learned that he didn’t want to be a farmer forever and didn’t want to work for anyone else.
Ward majored in Poultry Husbandry at the New York State Agricultural and Technical College in Alfred, NY. Following college Ward joined the Army and, while stationed in Alaska, became a father and found his natural ability as an “innovative” business man. He saved enough money to put an ad in Field & Stream magazine and sold genuine Alaskan moose turds as souvenirs! While he never pursued a career in his college major, this was the start of his life-long career as an entrepreneur.
Upon leaving the Army in 1956, Ward returned to Prattsburgh and opened a used car lot. He soon became an Oliver Tractor and John Deere dealer which fueled his competitive drive and dream to build his own McConnell brand. In 1961 Ward founded McConnell Manufacturing Co. He successfully sold farm equipment throughout the world and proudly served on the board of the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association. In the early 1970s Ward enjoyed a brief career in politics when he became the mayor of Prattsburgh and ran for New York State Assembly.
Ward moved to Florida in 1972 and later made Kinston, NC a second home in 1979. In 1986 his biggest entrepreneurial risk was undertaken when he purchased the largest 4WD tractor product line from Massey Ferguson. With the help of Detroit Diesel’s Roger Penske and many beloved Kinston employees, McConnell Tractors built the first tractor with a computerized engine. Ward even flew his factory employees up to Detroit to debut the new industry model, where they were hosted by Roger Penske himself. In 1993, Ward fulfilled his dream of making his own tractor when he introduced the McConnell-Marc 1000, a loving tribute to his young son Marc.
In 2011, as Chairman of a NASDAQ-listed farm machinery company in Iowa, he had the thrill of a lifetime when he was invited to Wall Street to ring the opening bell in celebration of the exchange’s 40th anniversary.
Ward would go on to acquire or control numerous other manufacturing companies that made everything from ladders to portable scientific laboratories. He loved venturing into new arenas, always loving the thrill of bringing struggling companies to life. He was honored to be featured in many publications over the years that highlighted his impact on the industry. Historically a bit slow with compliments, Ward never forgot that he did not do this alone and valued the commitment of his employees. 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.
Besides work, Ward loved breakfast with his buddies downtown at Christopher’s Cafe and later Lovick’s Cafe. He loved the camaraderie and the ritual…and those friends were very attentive and kind to him in his late years. He also very much enjoyed a “Ward McConnell Manhattan” at the Kinston Country Club and “wine time” at The Bentley Bed & Breakfast, where he and his wife Linda hosted guests from around the world for decades. Each night gave Ward a new audience to whom he could tell his story.
Ward was especially doting to Linda and enjoyed a relationship that grew stronger with each day over their 44 years of marriage. They came from humble beginnings but together they saw the world, raised a family, and had a wonderful life. Ward loved his children and especially enjoyed his grandchildren, who affectionately called him “Poppy.”
Ward was a true original and leaves us with many unforgettable memories, stories, and life lessons.
Services to honor Ward will be held at 4pm Sunday, June 6th at Howard-Carter Funeral Home in Kinston, NC. Gathering of friends to follow at Kinston Country Club. The family asks that donations be made to Downtown Kinston Revitalization or the Neuse Regional Library.
The family would like to thank his special friend Dr. Rupert Jilcott and the staff of the NC Veterans Home for their kindness and compassionate care during an especially difficult year.
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