Prominent Kewaunee County Dairy Farmer John Pagel killed when Green Bay-bound plane crashes in Indiana

John Pagel

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 Journal Sentinel has confirmed.

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

Pagel, the CEO of Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, also represented the Town of Casco on the Kewaunee County Board.

Indiana State Police said there were at least three people on the plane and that all were killed.

WISH-TV in Indianapolis reported that a Cessna Conquest II crashed in Carroll County, Ind., after having taken off from Indianapolis.

The plane crashed in a field near Rossville, about 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

The plane had flown from Green Bay to Indianapolis Tuesday morning, WISH-TV reported.

The crash, which occurred about 7:30 p.m., killed all on board, according to the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal & Courier. Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby confirmed the casualties at 10 p.m. but said investigators had not yet determined how many people were on the plane, the Journal & Courier said.

The plane was bound for Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport, according to WISH-TV sister station WFRV in Green Bay. WISH-TV said federal aviation records showed the plane’s owner is Ponderosa Aviation, which has the same address as Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee.

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 Pagel family manages about 8,500 acres and milks 5,300 cows. They also have a farm in Kansas that milks about 4,500 cows.

The family operation began in Wisconsin 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 has a cheese plant and a restaurant called The Cannery Public Market in Green Bay.

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, Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy 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.