Tuesday, September 27 , 2016, 8:52 pm | Fair 72º

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Local News

Longtime McConnell’s Owner, Ex-Fiesta El Presidente Jim McCoy Dead at 81

Jim McCoy, the former longtime owner of one of Santa Barbara’s best known businesses — McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams — died this week, according to his family.

McCoy, 81 passed away peacefully at his home Tuesday.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams was founded in 1949 by Gordon “Mac” and Ernesteen McConnell.

McCoy bought the company in 1962 after Gordon McConnell died, and served as president for nearly 50 years before selling it himself in 2011.

Michael Palmer and Eva Ein, and Barry and Kira Fay took over the manufacturing plant and office space on East Canon Perdido. The two ice cream shops — at 201 W. Mission St. in Santa Barbara and at 3241 E. Main St. in Ventura — are owned separately.

The Ventura shop is run by Jimmy Young, McCoy’s stepson.

Under McCoy’s leadership, the company’s production boomed, and pints of McConnell’s can be purchased in grocery stores all over California today.

McCoy is survived by his wife, Jeney, whom he married in 1977; stepsons Andy, Jimmy, Kevin and Mike Young; and daughter Monika McCoy.

McCoy lost his son, Robert, in 1980, and daughter, Jeni McCoy, last March.

“He had an exciting, successful life with a lot of friends and civil involvement,” said Kevin Young, his stepson.

“He died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his family. He was spiritually ready to go,” he said.

McCoy was always very involved in the community beyond his ice cream business. He belonged to many local groups, including the Pescatores and Rancheros, and served as El Presidente of Old Spanish Days in 1993.

“The most fun of all was when he was El Presidente,” Jeney said. “I told him, ‘Great, you did all the work leading up to this and I just have to appear!’ I had lots of Fiesta costumes to change into, and thought it was just a grand celebration.”

The two have ridden in the Fiesta Parade’s carriage of past Presidentes every year since then.

“I met him in 1970 at a food show with ice cream — he wanted to know if I wanted a taste of the world’s finest,” Jeney said. They married in 1977.

Jeney worked as the taste tester, doing quality control for McConnell’s once they married and began working together.

Jim McCoy had been using a cane for about three years after a stroke, but they still enjoyed going to their dance classes, Jeney said.

“He would put his left arm on my shoulder, his right held the cane and then we would boogie,” she recalled.

McCoy was an institution in town, said Mark Sylvester, founder of introNetworks and organizer of Santa Barbara’s TEDx American Riviera conference.

Sylvester, who had known McCoy for decades, was saddened to hear he had died.

“The thing for me with Jim was, whenever you ran into him, he was in a good mood,” Sylvester said. “He was just a good, kind guy; that’s who he was.”

When Sylvester moved to town in 1972, he painted McCoy’s windows at the McConnell’s store on Mission Street for Christmas, a side business to his work as a chef.

From then on, McCoy hated his windows being blank, and would have Sylvester replace each work of art with another one.

“He really was the one who was instrumental in encouraging me to think bigger about my business, and was a friend ever since then,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester used the money from Holidays on Glass to buy his first Atari computer, which led to his animation software company, Wavefront.

“Whenever I would see Jim on State Street, he would ask how I was doing,” Sylvester said. “He really celebrated that spirit of people doing it on their own.”

Memorial services were pending Friday.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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