Farm equipment industry veteran Ward McConnell has passed away
J. Ward McConnell Jr., a longtime veteran of the farm equipment industry and former Chairman of the Board of Art’s Way, passed away on May 31, 2021.
After leaving the military in 1956, Ward returned to Prattsburgh and opened a used car fleet. He quickly became an Oliver Tractor and John Deere dealer, which fueled his competitive spirit and his dream of creating his own McConnell brand. In 1961 Ward founded McConnell Manufacturing Co. He successfully sold farm equipment around the world and proudly served on the board of directors of the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association. In the early 1970s Ward had a brief political career when he became mayor of Prattsburgh and ran for the New York State Assembly.
Ward moved to Florida in 1972 and then made Kinston, North Carolina a second home in 1979. In 1986 his greatest entrepreneurial risk was taken when he purchased the largest line of 4-wheel tractors. Massey Ferguson engines. With the help of Roger Penske of Detroit Diesel and many beloved Kinston employees, McConnell Tractors built the first tractor with a computerized engine. Ward even took his factory workers to Detroit to launch the new industrial model, where they were hosted by Roger Penske himself. In 1993, Ward fulfilled his dream of making his own tractor by launching 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 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the scholarship.
Ward would go on to acquire or control many other manufacturing companies that made everything from ladders to portable science labs. He loved to venture into new arenas, always loving the thrill of bringing struggling businesses to life. He has been honored to be featured in numerous publications over the years that have highlighted his impact on the industry. Historically a bit slow on compliments, Ward has never forgotten that he didn’t do this alone and appreciated the commitment of his employees. He would become a kind mentor and a grateful boss and was often encouraged to write a book. Ward was still at his desk at the age of 88. His keen intelligence, relentless determination, fierce independence and authenticity were his greatest gifts.
In 2017, Farm Equipment editor / publisher Mike Lessiter recorded an interview with Ward and his 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.
You can find the complete obituary here.