We lost a dear friend last week. It is with heavy hearts we share that Bill McConnell died on Sunday, January 10th from the complications of pancreatic cancer.
Our business manager, Carol Kuester, has worked with Bill for 12 years. “This is a huge loss for all of us at Habitat,” she said. “Some days he was our sanity, others our counselor and teacher – but always our great friend, leader, and trustworthy believer in Christ. Through all the work we did together, he exemplified a life so well lived. He will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.”
Bill has been an integral part of Habitat McLean County for decades, starting his long relationship with our affiliate as a volunteer project director in 1997, supervising and training the other volunteers and partner homeowners on a house build. With Bill’s background owning his own remodeling business, it was a natural fit.
Bill joined the Habitat McLean County Board of Directors in 1998, resigning in 2002 to take the staff position of Construction Manager. (He had served in this role as a volunteer for two years.) From there he became Assistant Director of the affiliate in 2007, then served as Executive Director until 2010. It was his vision and leadership that led to establishing the ReStore on West Washington and its expansion just a few years later. He was also instrumental in securing the future of the affiliate through long-term development projects and strategic planning.
In 2007 Bill led a group of McLean County volunteers on a mission trip to Nicaragua to help build Habitat houses with partner families there, giving everyone what Bill liked to call “Habititis”. He believed once you worked alongside a homeowner, helping them build a house with their own hands, you caught the bug and were a volunteer for life.
After stepping down as ED, Bill remained active on every level with Habitat McLean County. He rejoined the board, served on multiple committees, was our entire IT department, worked on build sites, attended Habitat conferences and training, and continued to attend every Groundbreaking and House Blessing ceremony he could. Habitat for Humanity of Illinois recognized his years of service and support with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
“Bill McConnell was the heart and soul of Habitat McLean County,” said current Executive Director Jim Walters. “When I started in 2018, Bill was a board member and former ED who had a desk at our office. Many people have asked me if it was weird having a board member in the office, but it never was. Bill’s focus was never on me, but on helping the affiliate grow to its full potential. He became a mentor and friend. His death has been like losing a family member.”
Bill Waller, our current construction manager, worked closely with McConnell for years. He remembers one summer, in particular. “Bill was intent on learning everything I knew so that he may be of better service to the affiliate,” Waller recalls. “As we began Fuller Court [an entire street of Habitat houses], Bill began following me every day. We would walk up and down the street and check on our projects. I knew it was as uncomfortable for Bill as it was for me in the summer’s heat, but we marched on. At the end of the project he pulled the end of his belt from its loop and it was nearly a foot long.
Beaming, he announced he had lost this amount from his waist from walking up and down the street with me all summer.
"From that day forward our friendship was formed and to this day I would walk to the end of the world with my friend and I know he would do the same for me. I am heartbroken I lost my friend to the same disease that took my father. But like my dad, Bill served as a beacon of hope to all he met. I miss my friend today.”
We are considering many ways to honor Bill McConnell in the coming year and will keep you informed of details.