Kenneth George McConnell, Ph.D., a resident at Aegis in Bellevue (Wash.), passed away with his loving family by his side on July 4, 2023. He was 89. The Multiple System Atrophy (Parkinson’s) that slowly took away his functions never took away his smile and his sense of wonder. In fact, those of us left missing him contemplate he may have waited until the fireworks displays were in full force to depart with a send-off full of sparkly wonder.
He was born May 11, 1934, to Clayton and Ceta McConnell of Ellsworth, Wis. He grew up on the family dairy farm and always knew the value of hard work. He met the love of his life, Darlene Marie Decker, in 1954. They corresponded for 4 years while he earned bachelor’s degrees at the University of St. Thomas (BA) in 1955 and Notre Dame (BS) in 1957, and then married on June 27, 1959 in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in her hometown of Dickinson, N.D.. These two midwestern farm kids chose to spend their honeymoon in Europe in the summer of 1959, buying a VW bug and spending six weeks driving the continent. This passion for seeing the world and learning from other cultures was something that would continue for them all their lives.
The couple started a family while living in Ames, Iowa, where Ken completed both his Master’s and Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Iowa State University (1963). In the decade between 1960 and 1970, they were blessed with four sons – Christopher, John, Thomas, and Mark. Ken remained on as a faculty member at ISU, and the family made Ames their home for more than 40 years. During that time, Darlene was the primary homemaker and caretaker of the children, but she also devoted countless hours to the St. Thomas Aquinas Church of Ames, Iowa, where both of them found a spiritual home and where she worked as a pastoral associate. Ken retired from ISU in April, 2000, and he and Darlene subsequently moved to Washington state to be near the boys, who had miraculously all settled near one another and begun starting families. They settled in the retirement community of Port Ludlow and enjoyed more than 20 years there, making dear friends and taking advantage of many clubs and activities.
Dr. McConnell was a Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics who held at least 10 patents. He was a specialist in vibration testing who in 1994 was named by the Society for Experimental Mechanics the recipient of its William M. Murray Lecture Award, the Society’s highest honor, “in recognition of his outstanding contributions to SEM in the fields of dynamic instrumentation, vibration testing techniques, and fluid structure interaction.” He won an ISU Outstanding Educator Award, reflecting his passionate commitment to his students. He was grateful for the opportunity to work with people from all over the world.
During his tenure at ISU, Dr. McConnell also started a computer business (Cyberia, 1979-1983) selling hardware, writing cutting edge software applications, and providing entertainment through a computer game room. All four McConnell boys gained valuable work experience through the company. Cyberia was ultimately unsuccessful as a business venture but jumpstarted careers in computer science for two of the boys. The hardships and challenges the family went through during that time also provided important life lessons and reinforced the importance of family to get through difficult times together.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Darlene (Bellevue WA); his sons Christopher (Aileen) (Redmond WA), John (Virginia Rhoads) (Whidbey Island WA), Thomas (Leslie) (Kirkland WA), and Mark (Megan) (Ellensburg WA); and his sister Mary Vogelaers (Edmond) (Sijsele, Belgium) and her eight children. His grandchildren Kai (Gabbie Webbeking), Skye, Kate, Alec, Elise Rinehart (Henry) and Audrey all adored him and knew him as PapaK.
Ken will be remembered for his selflessness, his faith, his fierce love of his family, and his corny puns. None of us will likely play a game of 500 without thinking of the way he would bid on just about anything, and usually make it. Godspeed, Papa K.
Please join us for Mass of Christian Burial at 12:30pm on Thursday, August 17 at Holy Family Catholic Church, 7045 120th Ave NE, Kirkland, Wash. A lunch reception will follow. It was Ken’s wish that any memorial tributes be made in the form of charitable donations to the Hospice Program at EvergreenHealth Foundation, 12040 NE 128th St., MS#5 NE, Kirkland, Wash. 98034-3098 (online at www.evergreenhealthfoundation.com) or your favorite charity.