John Pagel of Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy and his son-in-law killed in a plane crash - Cowsmo

John Pagel of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy and his son-in-law killed in a plane crash

Prominent Kewaunee County businessman John Pagel and his son-in-law were among those killed Thursday night when a Green Bay-bound plane crashed in Indiana.

The son-in-law was identified as Steve Witcpalek.

Pagel also represented the Town of Casco on the Kewaunee County Board. Pagel and his family operate Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, a dairy farm with more than 5,300 cows, 100 employees and 8,500 acres, as well as the Cannery Public Market in downtown Green Bay.

Pagel’s reputation in the dairy industry and his belief in the Cannery’s farm-to-fork concept convinced Titletown the Pagels were the right family to develop a restaurant in The Rail Yard district in 2015, Titletown Brewing Co. Chief Operating Officer Jim Kratowicz said

“We liked the whole farm-to-table concept, but John’s reputation was highly respected. It’s one of the reasons we started doing business with them,” Kratowicz said. “But it was also a great personal fit. It’s a really, really a good family and John was a great friend to us. Personally and professionally, this is a tragedy.”

Indiana State Police said there were at least three people on the plane and all were killed when the Cessna 441 Conquest II crashed about 7:40 p.m. in a farm field near Rossville, about 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

The airplane was owned by Ponderosa Aviation, which has the same address as Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy.

According to the website Business Jet Traveler, the Cessna Conquest II is a twin turboprop business jet that was last built in 1986. It can seat up to nine passengers.

The plane had flown from Green Bay to Indianapolis Tuesday morning and was returning to Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport, according to online flight records.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are involved in the investigation of the crash.

The search for victims was hampered Thursday night by heavy rain, mud and a lack of light, the Indianapolis Star reported.

Police set a perimeter around the site and resumed the search Friday morning.

Anna Vanderleest, events coordinator at the Cannery, said she first met John Pagel when her Northeast Wisconsin Technical College class toured Pagel’s Ponderosa.

“He sat down with my class, shared conversation, answered questions about his business, and then enjoyed an ice cream cone with all of us,” she said. “He was a great man, and I am lucky to have been able to work for him and his family.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, called Pagel and Witcpalek’s deaths a huge loss to northeastern Wisconsin in a comment posted to Facebook.

“I was lucky enough to get to know John over the last couple years — he was a good and honest man who worked hard and loved both his family and community deeply,” Gallagher said. “Please keep their friends and family in your prayers.”

The Pagel family founded its dairy farm 72 years ago with fewer than 10 cows, a handful of hogs and some chickens.

Now, it has a 72-stall rotary milking parlor that produces about 500,000 pounds of milk a day. The business also owns Ron’s Cheese in Luxemburg.

Pagel’s four children all returned to the family business that now employs more than 100 people.

Pagel was president of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, the nation’s sixth-largest dairy cooperative.

In 2017, that group, then called Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative, helped dozens of dairy farmers find a home for their milk after their buyer, Grassland Dairy Products, dropped them in a trade dispute with Canada.

“The work is not done,” Pagel said at the time, “until each and every one of these farmers has a buyer for their milk and long-term solutions are in place.”

In 2003, the farm was named Innovative Dairy Farm of the Year by the International Dairy Foods Association and Dairy Herd Management.

Every year, the farm hosts middle-school students who spend a week learning about agriculture.

“John is revered in the industry,” Thomas Wilson, a vice president at Green Stone Farm Credit Services in Sturgeon Bay told the publication AgWeb last fall.

“He has the ears of many national dairy industry leaders and representatives and is influencing dairy policy,” Wilson said.

Pagel and the family’s dairy operation also have been at the forefront of controversy in Kewaunee County over large-scale farming operations and their impact on local groundwater.

After years of debate, he and a group of farmers in 2016 acknowledged a connection between their businesses and local well contamination, and announced steps to adopt new technologies to reduce groundwater pollution while also maintaining the size of their operations.

“We’re here to be responsible for our portion of the problem,” Pagel said at the time.


Source: Green Bay Press Gazette


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