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James H. Connell


James H. Connell, 84, of Independence, Iowa, passed away on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
As the patriarch of the Connell Aviation family – Jim has dedicated his life to not only advancing flight but to sharing his aviation legacy with his children and grandchildren. He is an accomplished pilot, mechanic and airport manager, having a more than 50-year career as a pioneer in aviation in America.
Jim was born on June 23, 1935, in Anamosa, Iowa, the son of Herbert J. and Wilma E. (Coyne) Connell. He was a 1954 graduate of Winthrop High School in Winthrop, Iowa, and enlisted into the U.S. Army on June 17, 1954, serving in Germany with the aviation unit. Upon his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, he returned to the United States to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, receiving his airframe and powerplant certification. While in Miami, Jim worked for Pan American Airlines in the engine-overhaul department. He also worked at the Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport as a line person.
When Pan American had a major layoff, Jim returned to Iowa to work at Collins Radio and also a mechanic at the McBride Airport in Marion, Iowa. He soon was able to secure a job at the Oelwein Municipal Airport working as a flight instructor, and line person/ferrying aircraft for his employer's sales office as well as working on his IA (Inspection Authorization) certification.
Jim then did maintenance for the Vinton Municipal Airport and the Independence Municipal Airport, offering maintenance programs at both airports for a period of time.
Eventually, both the airport management and fixed-base operation at the Independence Airport became full-time. For more than 44 years, Jim managed and offered general maintenance until his retirement in 2012.
During his career, he also owned and operated an aerial application business for 10 years, as well as a fixed-base operation in Poplar Bluff, Mo. He also was a co-pilot in a jet commander.
Jim holds a CFI, CFII, multi-engine and commercial ratings for flight instruction and A&P and IA ratings for maintenance work. He's also a member of AOPA (Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association), PAMA (Professional Aviation Maintenance Association) and was recently inducted into the Iowa Aviation Museum as a "2nd Generation Pioneer."
Jim received the Charles Taylor "Master Mechanic Award" in 2010, given by the Federal Aviation Administration, for 50 years of violation-free maintenance of aircraft, and also an award for 50 years of accident-free piloting of aircraft. He is the 1394th recipient of these awards in the nation. His name has been added to the Roll of Honor located in the Orville Wright Federal Building in Washington, D.C., and forever will remain there as a part of aviation history.
Currently, Jim was the co-owner of Aircraft Restoration & Fabric, LLC restoring aircraft. His personal project was a complete restoration of a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Karen Connell; Independence, Iowa; his children, Michael (Ava) Connell, Decorah, Iowa, Patrick (Anna) Connell, Marana, Ariz., David (Kristen) Connell, Lakeville, Minn., Kathleen (Rockford) Hettinger, Gilbert, Ariz., Dianne (Carl "Chip") Davis, Van Meter, Iowa, and Krista James, Winthrop, Iowa; two stepdaughters, Lynn (Robert) Estes, Independence, Iowa, and Jennifer Burco, Sumner, Iowa; 13 grandchildren; nine stepgrandchildren; 19 great-grandchildren with one on the way; eight stepgreat-grandchildren; two sisters, Elizabeth Passage, Stockton, Calif., and Carole Palacios, Hayward, Calif.; and many nieces and nephews.
Jim is preceded in death by his parents, Herbert and Wilma Connell; two sisters, Mary Ellen Walton and Collen O'Connell; and two brothers-in-law, Steve Passage and Jose Palacios; and a stepgranddaughter, Ashley Cooper.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Winthrop, Iowa, with the Rev. David Beckman presiding. Burial will be held in St. John's Catholic Cemetery in Independence, Iowa. Visitation will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. with a Parish vigil service held at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at the Reiff Family Center Funeral Home in Independence, Iowa.
To leave an online condolence, please go to www.reifffamilycenter.com, under obituaries.
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