BELLVILLE, Ohio — He was a young man of few words, but when he spoke, people listened.
That’s how friends and family remember Orrin Dwain McConkie, 17, who died during a tractor accident at the family farm April 7.
Orrin was known for growing a large garden, taking projects to the Bellville Street Fair, and being involved in his church.
He helped build Habitat for Humanity homes in Shelby, and he spent his birthday in Alabama on a mission trip with Samaritan’s Purse, rebuilding homes for victims of the Tuscaloosa tornado.
He earned the nickname “Hoss Cartwright” from his FFA friends because he was a big guy, with a big heart and gentle toward man and animal alike.
“When people say that he was a good kid, he was a really good kid,” said Adam Staley, Orrin’s FFA adviser and vo-ag teacher at Clear Fork High School. “He was quiet, but when he talked you listened.”
In addition to helping on the family’s 500-acre grain farm, he also owned goats and one dairy cow that he milked by hand. From the milk, he would make yogurt and butter, and he shared what he produced with people in the community.
His classmates designed T-shirts in memory of Orrin that they’re selling to benefit the family. He attended Knox County Career Center, on the condition he could remain in the Clear Fork FFA.
Staley said Orrin was a good influence on other students and a good example of how to work hard.
“Orrin was a hard worker, so I think (the students) kind of took it to themselves they needed to work twice as hard this week,” Staley said.
The name Orrin means “green pine tree,” according to Orrin’s father, Rob.
And, as Rob puts it, that’s exactly what his son was.
“He was just as a pine tree — gentle and strong standing,” Rob said.
Planting and growing things was among Orrin’s biggest loves.
“He was a hard worker that just loved to grow things,” said Orrin’s grandfather, Robert McConkie. “He told me ‘I don’t like to eat it as well as I like to see it grow.’”
The day of the accident, Orrin was tilling some ground in preparation for spring planting while his grandfather, 78, worked nearby in another field. It was common for the two to work in pairs, just in case something went wrong.
But no one could have expected just how wrong things would go.
Robert McConkie said his grandson was operating a chisel plow and making the usual rounds. Then, Robert saw what he thought was smoke coming from the tractor.
It turned out to be steam, and as Robert approached, he saw the wheels of the tractor were in the air.
Even a week later, no one is exactly sure what happened. Orrin knew how to drive tractors since he was a young boy, his father and FFA teacher both said. And he was very cautious about everything he did.
“It was a freak accident,” Rob McConkie said. “The kid was not careless in any way, shape or form — he’s more cautious than we are.”
Rob said his son never drove fast. In fact, when Orrin was practicing for his auto driver’s license, his dad had to tell him to drive faster.
It’s believed the International 1566 tractor collided with a couple trees sometime after the chisel plow was lifted from the ground, before overturning onto itself and its operator.
Exactly what happened may never be known. But Orrin’s friends and family are focusing on what they do know — that Orrin had a positive influence on many people.
Rob said his son hung out with the right crowd of friends, and some of them would come to the farm late at night just to get gardening advice or to learn how to set up a chicken house.“He wasn’t afraid to tackle any job,” Rob said. “He was always into helping people.”
Orrin was a fan of all things farming, including the Farm and Dairy newspaper.
“He couldn’t wait for that to show up,” Rob said. “If he couldn’t get it when he got off the bus Thursday, it was a bad afternoon.”
In addition to his father and grandfather, Orrin is survived by his mother, Missy (Smith) McConkie; his sister Cora and brother Wyatt; his maternal grandmother Sharon (Cooperrider) Smith of Bellville; aunts and uncles Marcie and Todd Leedy of Bellville, and Pam and Adam Lee of Maryland; cousins Lane and Monae Leedy and Faith, Hannah, Isaac and Luke Lee; and a huge circle of friends.
He was preceded in death by his grandfather, Harold W. Smith, and his grandmother, Barbara (Smith) McConkie.
The family takes comfort in their Christian faith, which has helped them endure.“We all got God in our hearts and he’s making it easier for us,” Rob said. “We all know where (Orrin’s) at and that puts us at ease quite a bit.”
Contributions in Orrin’s memory can be made through the Bellville Snyder Funeral Home, to Jefferson Township-Bellville Fire Department or to North Bend Church of the Brethren.