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Published: Friday, 12/31/2004

Champion horse trainer was avid traditional dancer

PEMBERVILLE - John F. Konesky, Jr., whose more than seven decades of experience with horses allowed him to train a national champion toward the end of his career, died yesterday at his home in Pemberville. He was 85.

Mr. Konesky died after a long bout with heart disease, family members said.

Born in Stryker, Ohio, to Czech immigrants, Mr. Konesky grew up the oldest son in a family of 12 children.

Quitting school at an early age, he began working on his father's 100-acre farm. The experience led him to train a harness-racing champion decades later.

"They did all the early work on the farm with a team of horses," his son, John, said. "He got very used to working with them."

When World War II broke out, Mr. Konesky had enough experience with the animals to train them for the Army. Serving for several years in a special unit based in Fort Riley, Kan., he trained horses used for combat and ceremonial purposes. He was honorably discharged in 1944.

He returned to work on the farm and became fascinated when his father, John, began training and driving Standard-bred horses for harness races in the early 1950s.

"His father was a pioneer in the area of harness racing," his son said.

Though he never drove the horses himself, Mr. Konesky picked up more experience training the animals, and in the 1960s took the stable over from his father. He soon earned success as both a trainer and owner.

"At its peak, he was training a dozen horses at a time," his son said.

Mr. Konesky was trainer and part owner of the first Ohio Sires Stakes winner, Tidy Dean, and raced horses in Chicago, Ocean City, Md., and many venues in-between.

But Mr. Konesky's glory day came in 2000, at age 81, when he trained J.R. Lisa, which went on to win 18 races in a row and took more than $25,000 in winnings.

Undefeated in 2000, J.R. Lisa was the "winningest 3-year-old trotter in North America for that year," his son said. Mr. Konesky later sold the horse to a Swedish owner.

When he wasn't training horses, he was out dancing with his wife. As a onetime-president of the American Czech and Slovak Dance Club, he would go out almost every Sunday and take part in traditional dances.

Mr. Konesky was a past director of the Northwestern Ohio Colt Association and a member of the U.S. Trotting Association and St. Michael's Catholic Church.

He is survived by his wife, Rose; son, John; daughter, Roseann Ward, and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in St. Michael's Catholic Church, followed by services there at noon. The family suggests contributions to the American Czech and Slovak Dance Club, St. Michael's Catholic Church, or Bridge Home Health and Hospice.

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