- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

J. McKenny Willis Jr., Eastern Shore farmer

EASTON, Md. — J. McKenny Willis Jr., who founded one of the first poultry operations that included a hatchery and processing plant, died of heart failure at William Hill Manor Retirement Community. He was 100.

Mr. Willis, a prominent Eastern Shore farmer and businessman, started his career in 1927 as a fertilizer salesman for Armour & Co., based in Baltimore. He had only an eighth-grade education, said his son-in-law, Richard G. Macgill of Ruxton. Mr. Willis, a native of Oxford, died Aug. 4.

In 1930, Mr. Willis established J. McKenny Willis & Son, a company that sold wholesale and retail agricultural products.

Ten years later, he quit his job at Armour to devote more time to his own company and began expanding it by adding a grain division that bought wheat, corn and barley grown by Shore farmers.

He gave Depression-era farmers fertilizer on credit, and he charged them only after their crops were harvested and sold.

In the late 1940s, he bought a chicken processing plant in Milford, Del., and developed an egg-hatching program in North Carolina.

He merged the company with Burris Processing Co., in Milford, and the firm processed and distributed its own brand of poultry throughout the Northeast.

It merged again in 1963 with St. Michaels Milling Co., and the new company was called Bayshore Foods Inc.

Mr. Willis retired in 1968, after the company was bought by Kane Miller Corp. of New York.

“He was a very fine individual, and no one alive did more for Talbot County. He’s the man who made Talbot County what it is today,” said Lloyd L. Beatty, former chief financial officer of Bayshore Foods Inc.

“He was a very quiet man who didn’t have a lot of education but plenty of common sense and business acumen,” Mr. Beatty said.

Mr. Willis served as president of Easton National Bank, and for 50 years, he served as a director, fund-raiser and donor for Easton Memorial Hospital.

In his typed obituary, Mr. Willis wrote: “Please no service of any kind. I want to be cremated, ashes to be spread on top of the soil so that I may help trees grow and flowers bloom.”

His family will comply with his wishes.

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