James Connell

James Herbert "Jim" Connell

Sunday, June 23rd, 1935 - Thursday, September 19th, 2019
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James H. Connell, 84, of Independence, IA died Thursday, September 19, 2019 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, IA.

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, IA the son of Herbert J. and Wilma E. (Coyne) Connell. He was a 1954 graduate of Winthrop High School, Winthrop, IA, and enlisted into the United States Army on June 17, 1954 serving in Germany with the aviation unit. Upon his honorable discharge from the Army, he returned to the United States to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, receiving his Airframe & 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 lay off, Jim returned to Iowa to work at Collins Radio and also a mechanic at the McBride Airport in Marion, Iowa. He was soon 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, Missouri. He was also 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, DC and will remain there forever as a part of aviation history.

Currently, Jim is co-owner of Aircraft Restoration & Fabric, LLC restoring aircraft. His personal project is a complete restoration of a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser.

He is survived by his wife of thirty four years, Karen Connell, Independence, IA, his children; Michael (Ava) Connell, Decorah, IA, Patrick (Anna) Connell, Marana, AZ, David (Kristen) Connell, Lakeville, MN, Kathleen (Rockford) Hettinger, Gilbert, AZ, Dianne (Carl “Chip”) Davis, Van Meter, IA, and Krista James, Winthrop, IA, two step daughters Lynn (Robert) Estes, Independence, IA, Jennifer Burco, Sumner, IA, thirteen grandchildren, nine step grandchildren, nineteen great grandchildren with one on the way, eight step great grandchildren, two sister, Elizabeth Passage, Stockton, CA, and Carole Palacios, Hayward, CA, and many nieces and nephews.

Jim is preceded in death by his parents, Herbert and Wilma Connell, and two sisters Mary Ellen Walton, and Collen O’Connell and two brothers-in-law; Steve Passage and Jose Palacios. A step-grand daughter; Ashley Cooper.

Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 AM on Saturday September 28, 2019, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Winthrop, IA, with Rev. David Beckman presiding. Burial will be held at St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Independence, IA. Visitation will be held from 3 PM until 8 PM with a Parish Vigil Service held at 8 PM at on Friday September 27, 2019 at the Reiff Family Center – Funeral Home in Independence, IA.
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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Friday, September 27th, 2019 | 3:00pm - 8:00pm
    Friday, September 27th, 2019 3:00pm - 8:00pm
    Reiff Family Center - Independence
    216 3rd Ave SE
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    There will be a Parish Vigil Service at 8 PM Friday in the funeral home
  • Service

    Saturday, September 28th, 2019 | 10:30am
    Saturday, September 28th, 2019 10:30am
    St. Patrick's Catholic Church - Winthrop
    555 1st St. South
    WINTHROP, IA 50682
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Interment

    St. John's Catholic Cemetery
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Reception

    Reiff Family Center Community Room
    216 3rd Ave SE
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email


  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
  • American Legion
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars


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Pam Osgood

Posted at 12:56pm
Karen and Family.

I read Jim's obituary in the Iowa Aviation Bulletin this morning. I remember his smile and quiet nature during the Iowa Aviation Conferences held over the years and his love of airports. In God's promise of eternal life, my thoughts and prayers are with you Karen and your family..

Pam Osgood, Mason City Airport

Pam Osgood, Mason City Airport

Steve Christensen

Posted at 09:34pm
Rest In Peace my friend. Fly high!

Richard Blum

Posted at 10:57am
To Karen and all of your family, my sincerest sympathies on your loss.
I remember well, standing along side Jim at the Independence Airport during the Fly Iowa airshow, watching a person standing on the wing of an airplane as it was flying by. "Would you ever consider doing that ?" I asked. "Not for a million dollars, he replied, "well, maybe for a million..." I am confident that, somewhere, he is still flying.

Dick Blum (Air Boss)
Iowa City

Dixie Hansen

Posted at 06:04pm
Prayers for all who loved him. Many family and friends have known him & his family in the community (will be missed).

Ann Bach Posted at 08:19pm

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. Deepest sympathies. The family of Ava Connell

Robin Grover

Posted at 03:41pm
Dianne and family, May you be strengthened in the days ahead by knowing MANY are keeping you in their thoughts. The Class of 82 sends their sincere sympathies. RIP Jim.

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