Edward and Ethel McConnell’s story begins with a young Ed and his fervent obsession with aviation. Ed’s fascination was sparked by witnessing airplanes on the big screen as a child at the movie theater. Ed’s face would fill with glee every time a plane crossed the screen. Eventually his obsession was clearly cemented into his life story; Ed was determined to be a pilot when he came of age.
Ed went on to realize his dreams, but not before a struggle. Upon joining the Navy, Ed was informed he could not become a pilot because his vision was not up to par. This did not stop him, however, because he was destined to follow his dream and take flight. Edward and his new bunkmate, Arthur Wade McDonald Jr., studied every single night until graduating from naval school at the top of their class. Ed would go on to be stationed in Saipan for three years during World War II, where he worked on the Corsair naval aircraft as a gunner and general mechanic. Ed would also have his first experience flying in a TBM Avenger during this time. It was on the Corsair that Ed shot down his first Japanese Zero plane, by chance. When asked how he learned to shoot so well, Ed said he learned to “shoot by the boot”, referring to a time in his youth when he missed a shot hunting and got “booted” in the rear-end. This became a running joke between Ed and the other soldiers. His position as gunner was one of Ed’s most proud accomplishments, yet he rarely spoke of it because of the tremendous sacrifices he had to make to accomplish his job and the guilt that he held as a result.
During Ed’s time in the war, Ethel was busy nurturing her own career, teaching the youth of America. Ethel knew since she was a child that she wanted to be a teacher, siting her immigrant grandfather from Denmark as a major inspiration for her choice in career. Even as a student, Ethel was enamored with school, never wanting to miss a single day. She would go on to teach 2nd through 6th grade at a multitude of different locations, including schools in Aurora, Ottawa and Marseilles. Ethel retired doing exactly what she loved and highly respected.
When Ed came home after the war, he began working as an aircraft engineer and even got his license to inspect aircrafts through the FAA. He would later go on to refurbish and rebuild aircrafts in his spare time. He rebuilt the first commercial mail airplane that now resides in a museum in Washington. Until the day he passed, Ed’s passion for aviation shown through like a bright light in his life.
Because of Edwards disdain in discussing his time in the military and WWII, his wife Ethel knew little about it. This would all change one day when Ethel noticed a TBM Avengers fly-in was occurring at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, IL. Ed and Ethel went to the event and Ethel discovered much about her husband she didn’t previously know. Seeing all of the planes and reminiscing about his time overseas opened Ed up, prompting him to talk about things he had kept to himself for years. It was after this event that Ethel began to garner a passion for the TBM Avengers and realized how important they were to her husband. The event continues annually, although now instead of just a fly-in, the TBM Avengers are holding a full-fledged reunion at IV Regional Airport and have been since last year. This is, in part, because of the generous donation Ethel was able to provide for the event.
After Edward’s passing in July of 2016, Ethel knew she wanted to continue the philanthropic spirit she and her husband shared. Ethel chose to create a donor advised fund (DAF) with SRCCF, giving her the ability to make donations throughout her lifetime from the fund, and afterwards by the SRCCF. Shortly after making the decision to create the DAF, the President of Starved Rock Country Community Foundation, Pamela Beckett, approached Ethel with a suggestion to donate to the TBM Avengers Reunion event in Peru, Illinois. It was a “no-brainer” for Ethel. With Ethel’s $5,000 annual donation from her Fund, the event will continue to bring in even more people to share the fighter jets and wonderful related stories.
Through the assistance and guidance of the Starved Rock Community Foundation, Ethel will be able to continue her husband’s legacy and love for aviation, donating money exactly where she wants it to go and for the exact causes she is passionate about, even after she has reached the end of life. This is why Ethel entrusted SRCCF with her donations and fund; she knew her money and her husband’s legacy would be in the right hands.
You, too, can honor Ed, and help Ethel give back to the community, by contributing to Ethel’ s donor advised fund here.