MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Sept. 28, 2022 – James “Jim” Konkel, a tireless presence who gave a booming voice to North American waterfowl for nearly 40 years, passed away Sept. 27.
“Jim was a true champion of our conservation mission and had genuine affection for everyone in Ducks Unlimited,” said Adam Putnam, DU chief executive officer. “We will be forever grateful for the friendship, service and philanthropy that he regularly extended to the Ducks Unlimited family.”
Numbers alone only begin to tell the story of Mr. Konkel’s impact on Ducks Unlimited’s mission.
Four decades of service. Stunning financial support across three countries and four flyways. A total of 19 leadership positions across North America, starting in Findlay, Ohio, and continuing through Maine, Memphis and beyond.
At his passing, Mr. Konkel was a Wetlands America Trust trustee, a Ducks Unlimited Canada board member, a Ducks Unlimited emeritus board member, National Shooting Subcommittee chairman and member of several other state- and national-level DU committees.
Those who worked with him closest remember not just Mr. Konkel’s lifelong dedication to conservation, but how he strived to build a better waterfowl and wetlands organization.
“Jim Konkel was a global stalwart and would be on the Mount Rushmore of volunteer donors in DU history,” said Tim Fehringer, DU director of fundraising and volunteer relations. “From Canada to Mexico, Alaska to Key West, his passion for waterfowl and the shooting sports was often unmatched as he held the highest of standards of himself, constituents and vendors to DU.”
Longtime friend, former DU board member and DU Canada board member Monty Lewis said Mr. Konkel took care of those around him, even during business.
“He never failed to pick up my name tag and save my seat beside him because he was always the first person in the room on a board meeting. He was the early bird,” Mr. Lewis said. “And he always wanted the corner seat.”
Mr. Konkel’s dedication to people was as strong as his commitment to the mission.
“I’m deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Jim Konkel. Having known him for well over 20 years, Jim was a true friend and indeed a dedicated member of the DU family,” said Doug Schoenrock, DU chairman of the board. “Jim gave himself wholeheartedly to the mission of Ducks Unlimited whether it was volunteering at his local event or chairing our National Shooting Committee. He approached his dedication to Ducks Unlimited with a huge heart and will be missed. I will miss the enjoyment of hunting and fishing with Jim, but most importantly, I will miss his friendship.”
A lifelong ambassador for the sport
Mr. Konkel was born in California and his father served in the U.S. Navy. His family spent time in different parts of the country, and he got his first taste of waterfowling by hunting ducks with his grandfather on the Bear River in Utah.
Love of hunting and travel was a lifelong theme.
“He traveled all over the place, gator hunting, quail hunting, waterfowling in Canada,” Mr. Lewis said. He caught his first marlin during the DU National Convention in Hawaii. He had a passion for flyfishing and was a regular visitor to Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
Mr. Konkel was longtime chairman of the DU National Shooting Subcommittee and was an ambassador for the sport. He was driven to raise the profile of the shooting industry while helping raise funds for Ducks Unlimited. He grew the annual “Ducks in the Desert” Las Vegas Continental Shoot into a can’t-miss event on the calendar of competitive shooters, while generating significant dollars for DU’s conservation mission. He also established the Eastern Continental Shoot in Branson.
His influence on the competitive shooting world led to long and fruitful partnerships between DU and the firearms industry. Mr. Konkel’s professionalism and friendship was especially evident with Browning firearms, said Scott Grange, Browning’s now-retired director of public relations and shooting promotions.
“One thing Jim was very good at was showing his appreciation for everything that Browning, and me personally, did for DU. He always went out of his way to make sure that DU appreciated us, and that meant a lot to us,” Mr. Grange said.
“The Ducks in the Desert event was a stage for DU to show the shooting industry what DU does. It was one of those events that opened eyes for people to see that what DU was doing was not just in the marsh but for the shooting industry as a whole.”
Serving DU and his community
“It’s difficult for me to envision a Ducks Unlimited without Jim Konkel,” said DU President Chuck Smith. “A great worker, volunteer and friend, he will be missed. Truly an unselfish servant and steward of all things DU.”
From stuffing goody bags to managing multi-day events, Mr. Konkel backed up his generous financial support with even more generous devotion of his time. “His passion and work ethic were unmatched,” Mr. Fehringer said. “He set an example by doing the small things, the large things and everything in-between.”
When not helping the ducks, Mr. and Mrs. Konkel enjoyed time at their home in Scarborough, Maine. Friends would enjoy late-night text messages from Mr. Konkel, filled with images of bobcats, turkey and deer from his trail cameras.
He and Mrs. Konkel were strong supporters of the Portland, Maine, community. The Konkel’s are generous supporters of the Portland Museum of Art. Mr. Konkel was on the Portland Symphony Orchestra board, was a trustee at his former high school, Gould Academy, and was a former council member of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Waterfowl Advisory Council.
Mr. Konkel’s influence will live on in the waterfowling community beyond stories and events. The Konkels helped endow the Douglas and Carol Federighi Waterfowl Graduate Assistantship in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. To celebrate Mr. Konkel’s 50th birthday and in honor of his steadfast belief in wetlands conservation, passion for waterfowl and dedication to the mission of DU, his father Harry Konkel and sister Susie Konkel created the James Donnell Konkel Fund for Waterfowl Conservation. And in 2008 DU and the Ohio Division of Wildlife dedicated a newly restored 40-acre marsh at Pickerel Creek State Wildlife Area as the James Donnell Konkel Wetland.
“He didn’t miss meetings. He didn’t miss state conventions. He didn’t miss anything. He was always there and could be depended on. If you went anywhere for DU, Jim was there,” said longtime friend and senior DU volunteer Mike Woodward. “Jim was Mr. DU. He lived his life to serve Ducks Unlimited.”
The DU family extends its deepest sympathies to his wife, Susan Konkel; his sister, Susie Konkel; and his father, Harry Konkel.
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.