Jerry Connell had a zest for life that could not be matched. If you didn’t know him when you walked into a room, you knew him when you walked out. His smile and firm handshake welcomed you and his quick wit made you feel at home. He was a man of great faith and helped many friends grow closer to God.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at the age of 85, Jerry passed away peacefully with family by his side in his home at Freedom in Monroe.
Gerald “Jerry” Francis Connell was born during the Depression in the seacoast town of Charleston, South Carolina, on Nov. 23, 1934, to Charles Joseph Connell and Evelyn Drucilla Mauffray Connell. When Jerry was very young, he lost his older brother Charles to spinal meningitis, and two siblings died close to their birth. A group of orphans that lived down the street became his best friends. They had a positive impact on his life forever.
Jerry attended Catholic school in Charleston. He loved playing all sports, and his favorite activity was boxing in the Golden Gloves. Family, Boy Scouts, sports and his duties as an altar server played a big role in his life and his strong faith instilled his moral compass.
At the age of 14, Jerry’s father became very ill and they moved from Charleston to Atlanta. His mother became the head of household and made sacrifices to enroll Jerry in Marist College, a Catholic, military day school for young men. During Jerry’s high school years, his father’s health continued to decline. Jerry graduated from Northside High School and enlisted in the United States Navy. He proudly served during the Korean War on the USS Navasota as a Navy petty officer.
After four years of active military duty, he returned to fulfill his promise to his parents and attended the University of Georgia where he was an active contributor on campus, a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and vice president of Pi Sigma Epsilon business fraternity. While on a blind date at UGA, Jerry met a dynamic young woman, Peggy Louise Eady. She was everything that he had prayed for in a wife and on Aug. 29, 1959, they were united in marriage at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (now Kennedy Chapel, on the University of West Georgia Campus in Carrollton).
They made lifelong friends while living in married housing at UGA while Jerry finished his bachelor’s degree in business administration. Peggy taught school and Jerry went to classes and worked as an administrative assistant at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens. Peggy and Jerry had four children, Catherine, Cindy, Cecelia and Cronan, all born at St. Mary’s over the course of six years.
In 1964, they moved to Monroe, where they made their home for 56 years. They purchased the Credit Bureau of Winder and Monroe. Jerry served as president and was very active with the Credit Bureau, serving as president of the Associated Credit Bureau of Georgia and president of the Associated Credit Bureau in Houston, and held many other positions. Peggy and Jerry printed business documents for the Credit Bureau, and this led to the start of Connell Printing, which became a family affair with all four children working in the business through the years.
Jerry and Peggy were both disciples at St. Anna’s Catholic Church, where they were actively involved for decades. Jerry served on the first parish council and later as chairman. He volunteered as a lector, sacristan, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, ministered to the sick, taught religious education and RCIA, ministered to prisoners, and was on the advisory board for the Archdiocese of Atlanta before becoming a permanent deacon of St. Anna’s Catholic Church in 1987. Jerry and Peggy shared their faith with others at Cursillo retreats and they hosted statewide Cursillo and church gatherings on their property.
They were very involved in the community. Jerry was board chair and president of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce, president and charter member of the Monroe Toastmasters Club, charter member and one of the founders of the Piedmont Industrial Association, police commissioner, chairman of Citizens Advisory Council Probation and Parole, and chief registrar of Walton County for 32 years. It is fitting that Jerry died on Election Day.
Among his many other contributions and commitments, Jerry was chairman of the Monroe Kiwanis Club and organized the Key Club at Monroe Area High School, where he also served as their adviser. The city of Monroe held its summer camps at Jerry’s lake and thanked him with an award for civic cooperation in recreation. He received the distinguished service award by Monroe Jaycees and the J.L. McGarity Citizenship Award through the Walton County Chamber of Commerce. He enjoyed working with youth and was district commissioner of Boy Scouts of America and scoutmaster of Troop 81.
Jerry had a calling to serve the poor. In the early 1970s, Jerry pulled together a group of volunteers to minister to those that needed food, shelter, and clothing. Later a group of minsters joined in the efforts and the project evolved into FISH (Faith in Serving Humanity). He was honored with numerous awards, but he would have wanted to be best known for being a man of faith, loving husband and father and loyal friend.
Jerry had the gift of hospitality and enjoyed entertaining. Celebrations at Freedom were always surrounded by love, laughter, song, prayer, a cold beverage and a fabulous meal. He was an amazing self-taught chef and enjoyed sharing his great love and passion for food. When not cooking, you could find Jerry fishing, singing, taking photos, enjoying nature or traveling to a location on his bucket list. His grandchildren affectionally know him as “Pop” and have acquired many of his wonderful traits and talents.
For the last 15 years, Jerry has been the primary caregiver for Peggy, who has Alzheimer’s disease. In 2016, Jerry and Peggy moved to South Dakota. Peggy moved into memory care and Jerry lived with Catherine and Tim. He returned to Freedom twice a year and would also make trips to see his children, grandchildren and great-grands. In Sioux Falls, Jerry participated in OLLI, where he made new friends and continued to be intellectually challenged. A couple of tumbles, when in Georgia, prevented Jerry from returning to the Midwest. Cronan and Theresa Connell and Cindy Palmer and family teamed up to provide care for Jerry.
Jerry is survived by his wife, Peggy, of Monroe and Sioux Falls, South Dakota; her children Catherine (Tim) Forsch of Sioux Falls, Cindy (Hayne) Palmer of Monroe, Cecelia Smith of Hampton, New Hampshire, and Cronan (Theresa) Connell of Monroe; grandchildren, Jason Forsch and Lauren Forsch of Sioux Falls, Luke Palmer, Joseph Palmer and Hannah Palmer of Monroe, Adam (Elise) Smith of Tucson, Arizona, Alex (Kayce) Smith of Alpharetta, Patrick (Katie) Connell of Loganville, and Elizabeth Connell (Ricardo Suárez) of Sacramento, California; eight great-grandchildren; and many friends and family too numerous to list, but not forgotten.
Jerry was preceded in death by his father, Charles; mother, Evelyn; brother, Charles; and two stillborn siblings.
Friends are invited to visit with Jerry’s family at St. Anna’s Catholic Church in Monroe from 10 a.m. until noon Thursday, Dec. 17. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the funeral Mass and interment will be private. A livestream of the Mass can be viewed at 1 p.m. on St. Anna’s Catholic Church Facebook page.
The family suggests gifts in Jerry’s memory be made to St. Anna’s Catholic Church at 1401 Alcovy St., Monroe, GA 30655, or to FISH at P.O. Box 1838, Monroe, GA 30655. Cards can be directed to the Connell Family, 2185 Highway 11 NW, Monroe, GA 30656.