Local reaction after 3, including dairy farm owner, killed in plane crash

John Pagel, left (Photo courtesy Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative) and Steve Witcpalek (Photo courtesy Witcpalek family)

KEWAUNEE COUNTY (WLUK) -- The local dairy community is mourning the loss of one of its leaders, after a plane went down Thursday in Indiana, killing all three people on board.

John T. Pagel, his son-in-law Steven Witcpalek along with the pilot Nathan Saari died in the crash.

The flag flies at half-staff outside the entrance to Pagel's Ponderosa. Family and friends gather inside the farm house, just beginning to cope with the news.

"Actually, this morning, when I heard about it, I was just devastated," said Chuck Wagner, Kewaunee County Board Supervisor.

Wagner knew Pagel well. The two served together on the Kewaunee County Board.

"I would remember John as always laughing. Always being happy. Always looking for the bright side. Yes, he was extremely serious in all the work he did. In every endeavor that he had," said Wagner.

The family's statement Friday afternoon read:

The Pagel and Witcpalek families are heartbroken over this tragic loss. John and Steve were wonderful family men and dedicated dairymen who brought joy to the lives of so many people. They valued their community, loved their neighbors and lived life to the fullest. Although it’s unimaginable to think of a future without them, we know that their loving spirit will guide us. We sincerely thank the countless people who have showered us with love and support. We also grieve for the loved ones of the pilot who was lost, Nathan Saari, as they try to bear the terrible pain of this tragedy. We appreciate your respect for our privacy as we wait for additional information.

Those endeavors included The Cannery Public Market in downtown Green Bay. Pagel spoke to FOX 11 during the grand opening in August of 2015.

"We're all about a farm-to-fork kind of a concept," said John Pagel, in an interview in August of 2015.

Pagels Ponderosa is one of the biggest dairy operations in Kewaunee county. Groundwater issues and environmental concerns sometimes pushed Pagel into politics at the state level.

"He was able to bring the farm community together with the conservation community. I always felt like he didn't get the credit he deserved," said State Rep. Joel Kitchens, (R) Sturgeon Bay.

Pagel's plane was on its way from Indianapolis to Green Bay. It crashed Thursday night about 60 miles after take off.

The families released a statement saying in part: "John and Steve were wonderful family men and dedicated dairymen who brought joy to the lives of so many people. They valued their community, loved their neighbors and lived life to the fullest.."

Wagner says he will never forget the man he called friend.

"John was just a great guy. Always trying to help. He'll be sorely missed," he said.

Other farmers who worked with Pagel say they are still in shock, and the dairy community lost a great leader.

The Kewaunee County Administrator released the statement about Pagel, who served on the county board:

The Edge Dairy Cooperative, of which Pagel was board president, released this statement:

This is a tremendous personal and professional loss for the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative family. John was a cherished friend and visionary leader who helped create the cooperative and its sister organization, the Dairy Business Association. John was a champion for the dairy community who worked tirelessly to put farmers in a position to succeed.
As president of Edge since its beginning in 2010, John led with enthusiasm and commitment. Under his guidance, the cooperative grew to the sixth-largest in the country, representing hundreds of farmers throughout the Midwest. In recent years, Edge has strengthened its advocacy in Washington, D.C., where John often traveled to talk to members of Congress about the impact of federal actions on farmers back home.
John was a pioneer and entrepreneur who built a thriving multifaceted business and inspired others in the industry to try new approaches. The Edge board and staff will deeply miss John’s friendship and energy, but his vision and spirit will continue to inspire and guide us.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to investigate Friday.

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