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Class Of 2008

William Duncan Connor

William Duncan Connor can be considered the great-grandfather of modern milling and forestry practices. Indeed, it was W.D. (as he was known) Connor’s vision that first established and incorporated the great tradition of sustainable forestry. 

Now, perhaps more than ever, it is fitting to bestow the honor of induction into the MFMA Hall of Fame for William Duncan Connor; not only is he the father, grandfather and great-grandfather of continuing lumbermen and flooring manufactures but he can also be considered the great-grandfather of modern milling and forestry practices.  Indeed, it was W.D. (as he was known) Connor’s vision that first established and incorporated the great tradition of sustainable forestry. W.D. combined that sustainable philosophy with a tireless pursuit of modern processing technologies to continually save and preserve our most valuable renewable resource - our forests.

William Duncan Connor was born in 1864 to Robert and Mary Connor near Stratford, Ontario.  The family then moved to what would then be called Auburndale - named so for W.D.’s three auburn haired sisters.  W.D. attended university before being called back to assist his father who suddenly fell ill.  W.D. eventually built another mill in a town he named Stratford, for his birth place.  From 1894-1898 W.D. spent the next years buying timber in and around Forest County Wisconsin. Today that timber is still owned by the Connor family. It is there, in Laona that he laid out his greatest and most magnificent plans.

W.D. envisioned a completely vertically integrated company based around a sawmill that would concentrate on hardwoods.  The novelty of this idea was grand because at the time the new world was more concerned with cutting pine for construction materials.  However, W.D. could see a transition ahead.

That transition would be from primary construction materials to fine furnishings and finished products - furniture and flooring.  In 1898 he began construction of what would become the world’s largest hardwood mill on a site in a town he named Laona, in Forest County Wisconsin.  Over the next 105 years, the mill would saw over 1 billion board feet of lumber and produce more than 800,000,000 square feet of flooring.  Yet today, there is more standing timber than there was in the original timber cruise data from 1898.

W.D. Connor became very active in Wisconsin politics.  Some of the positions he held included State Representative and Lieutenant Governor.  He enacted legislation that enabled landowners the ability to hold the land and sustainably manage it.  His son’s Richard M. Connor, Gordon R. Connor and his grandson Gordon P. Connor would continue that tradition and wrote the Best Management Practices for Forest Management. Today that tradition is kept on by his great-grandson and President of W•D Flooring, Peter H. Connor.

Besides building one of Wisconsin’s most famous lumbering towns, Laona, W.D. Connor’s legacy continues to live on today.  As a believer in education, he established Wisconsin’s first school forest program teaching future generations that harvesting a tree is not a one time event, but rather, but an on-going perpetual affaire - an affaire that represents a symbiotic relationship of give and take. A relationship, that when properly stewarded, can last and continue forever.  This is proven out in the continuation in the sustainable management by the Connor family of their timberlands, their tireless pursuit of improving technologies and care and consideration for their environments both civic and environmental.

When companies and peoples consider who they are today they should think of the legacy that was left behind by W.D. Connor.  He was the great-grandfather of sustainable timber management.  He was the builder of communities.  He was steadfast in his belief that if as much consideration was given to the resource that derived the products, as the products themselves, then the relationship could perpetuate itself.  If not for his insight, the great northern forest that our maple comes from may not exist today.

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