Harry D. Conkey II

Posted 4/16/20

CHICAGO - Harry D. Conkey II, beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend and longtime Mendotan, died March 26, 2020 at his home in Chicago, following a remarkable life of almost 85 years.

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Harry D. Conkey II


CHICAGO - Harry D. Conkey II, beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend and longtime Mendotan, died March 26, 2020 at his home in Chicago, following a remarkable life of almost 85 years. His family provided the following.

Harry was born May 25, 1935 in Mendota. He attended Blackstone School until 1943, when his father Robert purchased the Matthiessen home and property in Deer Park. There, he attended a one room country school and developed a lifelong love for the outdoors. He learned to hunt, fish and trap along the Vermillon River. And, he could shoot! He routinely hit 20 of 25 clay pigeons, even well into his 70s and with his grandfather’s dependable old Browning 12 gauge.

His high school years that followed were at Lawrenceville Academy in New Jersey and Westminster School in Connecticut, where he graduated in 1954. He then attended Cornell University, but only for his freshman year. Harry often said all the activities that accompany living in a fraternity contributed to his “failing out.” His father, unamused, recommended the military, and in November 1955 Harry enlisted in the Navy for two years and was assigned to Great Lakes Naval Academy.

In 1956 he started dating the love of his life, Lynn Sitterly, the daughter of family friends. He was smitten and pursued her the following year while she was studying abroad in Paris. When she returned by ship, Harry met her at the dock in New York and proposed immediately. They were married in the spring of 1957. Their marriage lasted 63 happy, adventurous years.

Following their wedding they moved to Lake Forest, where Harry graduated from Lake Forest College in 1959 with degrees in both religion and business. He considered attending seminary, but his father insisted he join the family business, H D Conkey & Co. founded by his grandfather, Harry in 1907. So, he and Lynn moved back to Mendota in 1960 where Harry began his business career.

For the next 20 years he and his father, Robert and their wonderful employees and colleagues built a great American manufacturing company. The Conco Inc. subsidiary of H D Conkey & Co. employed almost 900 persons at its peak. The diversified product lines included material handling (cranes), sewer cleaning equipment, barometric draft controls, and powder containers for military ordinance. During many of those years the Conco factory lit up the nighttime sky with production happening around the clock.

Harry also spent three summers during this period at Harvard Business School, obtaining a degree in management. His time at Harvard nurtured his curiosity for technology and automation, and Conco became an early adapter, investing in the first versions of IBM System 3 computers. The Conco subsidiary was sold in 1978.

During his Conco years Harry’s love for Mendota and community was boundless. He was a board member for 19 years and past president of the Mendota Community Hospital, a pioneering volunteer (with Lynn) of the Mendota Community Ambulance Service, a volunteer with Mendota Civil Defense, and a charter member and past president of Mendota Rotary Club. He also served on the board of the National Bank of Mendota.

His interests were limitless. He was blessed with an inquisitive and astonishingly retentive mind. Harry seemed to wake up every day in wonder that something new and exciting was going to happen.

He owned one of the first Apple Lisa computers. He built a darkroom in his home on Fifth Street. Photography was his first love, and during his years at Deer Park he was deputized by the LaSalle County Sheriff, whom he accompanied to various calamities to take pictures for local newspapers. He developed the Coons Grove Tree Farm in Dimmick Township, including taking 80 acres of pasture land along the Little Vermillion River and transforming it into a magical Christmas tree farm. And, he planted a pristine 10 acre Illinois prairie at his home outside Mendota, which he would burn each spring and then marvel at its ability to replenish magnificent prairie grass and wild flowers by summer.

In these ways, Harry was a technologist, an artist, an arborist and a conservationist, in addition to having great business acumen. He was all of these, but such praise falls short of who he truly was. And Harry was so much more. He was steady, a man of incredible curiosity, intelligence, and generosity. And he had empathy. True empathy. The kind that resulted in action, not just recognition. He was about honor, fairness, truth and especially, kindness. Not only a tolerance for all kinds of people, but a genuine affection for all kinds of people.

In the end, it’s hard to imagine a world without Harry Conkey. He touched so many lives and thus came to the end of his life surrounded by so much love. He will be remembered with abundant smiles. And his legacy, like his resplendent prairie, will live on and on and on.

In addition to Lynn, Harry is survived by daughters, Christine (Jeff) Tyner and Genevieve (Robert) Thornton Fischer; son, Harry D. III (Brooke) Conkey; and grandchildren, Frances, Alex and Wilson Tyner, Harry IV, Donald and Peter Conkey and Lily, William and Annie Thornton.

If you wish to make a gift in Harry’s memory, please donate to Nightengales Inc., 708 Jefferson St., Mendota, IL 61342 or Mendota Area Christian Food Pantry, 918 Main St., Mendota, IL 61342.