Rich Connell was born and raised on a dairy and grain farm near Storm Lake, Iowa. Rich developed a love for the dairy and planned to return to the farm after receiving his BS in Agricultural Education / Agronomy in 1952 from Iowa State University. The United States Army had other plans however, and Rich was drafted. He was sent to Frederick, Maryland, where, during the cold war era, he worked in the Chemical and Biological Warfare Service as a part of a US Army team developing a chemical that would sterilize wheat.
Rich met Louise Pierre from Ames, Iowa, during his senior year at Iowa State. When he was sent to Maryland, she transferred to the University of Maryland to continue her studies, and they were married in 1954. After his military discharge, Rich took a job with USDA Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, while Louise earned her degree.
Rich and Louise returned to Iowa in 1955, and he began farming with his dad. Together they quickly grew and expanded the dairy business to 80 cows. The Connell Dairy was the largest dairy farm in northwest Iowa, which meant the farm was visited by numerous sales representatives selling feed, fertilizer and seed. Rich quickly learned and understood the importance of a solid relationship between the farmer and the supplier.
Rich, Louise, and their three children continued on with the dairy after Rich’s dad died in 1960. In February 1963, a fire completely destroyed the Connell Dairy facilities. A year later, Rich took a job as a feed specialist for Farmland Industries.
With his pleasing personality, quick wit, and a little luck, Rich quickly built up a large feed business in northwest Iowa. Fortunately for Rich, there were two very large turkey farms in his territory that consumed huge quantities of feed. Rich worked to land the two turkey farms as customers and became one of Farmland’s leading feed sales reps.
In 1966, Rich was tapped to lead Farmland’s expansion into Illinois. Rich, Louise, and family relocated to Earlville, Illinois, and he began calling on grain coops all across the state. Not knowing anyone, Rich took a grain and feed directory and began making calls. The goal was to affiliate coops with Farmland to supply their feed, fuel, and agronomy products. As Rich affiliated the coops and new divisions were added, he would then recruit new people to work in these divisions. Rich developed an extensive network of people, and his excellent ability to recall names benefited him and the coops greatly. Rich learned the businesses of the coops and his experiences led him to recruit the right people to fill the jobs.
In December 1967, Rich and his family moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where he opened a Farmland office. Rich developed a good reputation as an individual who understood the nature of the grain and agriculture supply business. His hard work and solid reputation helped him to affiliate 120 of Illinois’ 151 coops with Farmland. By 1976, Farmland created the Illinois Division and placed Rich as the Division Manager. Now, Rich was able to hire an aggressive staff to work the business he had built.
Ten years later, the climate in agribusiness was changing; Farmland was in financial trouble and began downsizing and consolidating. The Illinois Division was going to be merged into the Iowa Division. Rich felt it was time for him to seek new pastures, thus on September 1, 1986, Rich took an early retirement from Farmland.
Now free to ponder new opportunities, Rich’s good reputation in Illinois agriculture led to several opportunities for him to consider. Ultimately, Rich joined Frank Beurskens doing PR work at Advance Trading. Rich became an ambassador for the grain industry and began working college career fairs to encourage young people to make their career in agribusiness. Grain companies soon began contracting with Advance to have Rich fill their job needs.
Rich knew the grain industry, but he also knew there was much more to agribusiness than just grain. So on June 1, 1995, after “retiring” for the second time, Rich started AGRI-SEARCH, Inc. and opened an office in downtown Mahomet, Illinois. He hired Jennifer Tarr who began recruiting in the Agronomy industry. Later, Tammy Miller joined the staff to work Livestock and Farm operations, Craig Mackey worked Seed, and Sherri Feather helped Rich in the Grain and Feed area.
The Mahomet office building was sold, and Rich relocated the office to the upstairs of his rural Champaign County home. By the late 90’s Rich’s initial staff had moved into other areas. He adapted his new barn on his property into an office and hired Dave Allen of Arthur on July 1, 1999. It soon became apparent that Dave would be the one to lead the business into the 21st century. Dave and his wife purchased the business on January 1, 2001, and relocated the business to Arthur, Illinois. Dave rented the former Thermogas building and set up shop with Rich agreeing to continue on as a consultant and recruiter for one year. Joining Dave and Rich were Mike Pfister working Seed and Agronomy and Jeff Tinnon working Equipment.
At the end of 2001, Rich stepped away from the business on a daily basis. Under Rich’s tutelage, Dave continued to learn the grain side of the business and hired Jim Fleming on July 1, 2002, to work the Seed and Agronomy areas. With Dave and Jim doing the daily recruiting, Rich continued as a consultant and worked trade shows, college career days, and other events.
Technology has created great change in the business. Today, nearly all communication is done electronically, and web sites allow candidates and companies from all over the world to access our company. While we have witnessed great change in how we service our clients, the basic premises Rich established remain firm. We are here to partner with you to help you build your business. Take care of your customer and your customer will take care of you. Treat people fairly and they will respect you for your honesty and sincerity.
With growth came the need for more staff, and more staff created the need for larger facilities. In April 2005, the business relocated from the Thermogas building to an office site in a manufacturing complex on the southeast side of Arthur where it remained until May 29, 2015. On that date, the company moved into a brand new facility on the west side of Arthur, on Palmer Street just north of Illinois Route 133.
Rich remains a vital part of the AGRI-SEARCH family. He can still be seen working the booth at some trade shows and career fairs. To Rich, strangers are friends he has not yet met. His ready smile and quick wit are still very apparent, and you can often find him enjoying a good dish of ice cream while discussing University of Illinois sports or the accomplishments of his three grandchildren.