Mike Connell, bagpiper and more, brings a military heritage, ranching skills and love for music to whatever he does.
If it’s worth doing, according to Army 1st Sgt. Connell, it should be done right. The list of things this Nevadan with worldwide experience has done, and still does, just seems never ending. It seems that way when you converse with him, learn he was in the Mideast during both the conflicts of the two Bush presidencies, speaks Arabic, tries to learn Gaelic, recites cowboy poetry, plays more than one musical instrument, and enjoys ranching work.
To say the passion for which he’s known in Northern Nevada is bagpiping just hits a single highlight among many in Connell’s varied background.
“I started with a pipe band in Reno,” he said, identifying it as the Reno and District Firefighters’ Pipe Band. That was in 1999. Though he got burned out on piping briefly a few years ago, he’s back into it with gusto now. He’s often seen in tartan kilt and martial regalia playing his pipes at funerals, graduations for law enforcement personnel or other events with a ceremonial purpose calling for panoply and his musical skills.
Those skills don’t end with the bagpipe, extending to the banjo, guitar and mandolin. As a lad he learned his way around a clarinet and saxophone. But music is just one of many ways this 47-year-old keeps food on the table while pondering food for thought in his jack-of-many-trades life.
Connell, born in Louisiana and a youngster in Japan while his father was in the Air Force, did his own stint in the Air Force and served in both England and Saudi Arabia. He said at age 19, he joined the Air Force for four years, four months and two days. “I was held over because of Desert Storm,” he said.
Years later, after jobs in various civilian fields that included stints on working ranches, Connell joined the Army National Guard. He spent some time in Iraq and Kuwait doing military microwave communications work during 2004 and 2005. He had joined the Army National Guard in 1995 after trying his hand at ranching and the horseshoe business when he moved to Northern Nevada.
“I’m hitting 20 years with the Army Guard,” said the Reno resident, who works at National Guard headquarters in Carson City. He said he will be eligible for retirement from the guard in 2016.
During his military service and those intervening years in civilian life, he’s amassed a few other skills besides the musical and military matters. He also has advanced his education. He just completed his bachelor’s course work in animal science and industry. He took courses at the University of Nevada, Reno, but his degree is from Kansas State University. He intends to go there in December for graduation ceremonies to pick up his diploma.
After his time in the Air Force in his late teens and early 20s, Connell worked on a ranch with the man he calls his mentor — Al Declerk — with whom he has remained in contact to this day. He also worked in Colorado with livestock, for carriage companies, took a horseshoe/blacksmithing course, met his wife, Suzanne, and eventually moved to this area. Suzanne, from Northern Nevada, has served in the Air Guard.
Among his credits not only are horseshoe and large animal work, but offshoots of those interests. After learning to shoe and do blacksmithing, that led to other forging work like making spurs or other items ranchers need, and even to rawhide braiding. Stemming from his ranching/animal interests, Connell is certified as a trainer in first responders’ handling of large animal incidents.
Connell’s passion for all these things, including playing the pipes, seems rarely to wane.
When it did regarding the pipes years back, it was about the time he piped on Jan. 19, 2010, for the funeral of his brother, a cancer victim. His zest for making music, however, has kept his commitment to the pipes from languishing long.
Perhaps it’s all part of his underlying philosophy: If you want something done, give the job to a busy person.