Pilot, commissioner Cates dies in air tragedy

By Jim Misunas
Great Bend Tribune – April 22, 2014

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Barton County Commissioner Don Cates, a decorated military hero, died tragically doing what he loved — flying.
Cates was flying a aerial spraying plane near G Road and 210th Ave. several miles northwest of Garfield in Pawnee County when it crashed Tuesday afternoon after hitting some power lines. Cates flew for Pratt’s Farmers Spraying Service.
Pawnee County Sheriff Scott King said deputies secured the scene for the Kansas Highway Patrol. Larned EMS and first responders from Garfield and Larned assisted at the crash site.
During his 34 years as an airline pilot, Cates flew more than one billion airline seat miles without injury or damage to a person or airplane.
“He will certainly be missed, both on a personal level and on a professional level,” said Barton County Administrator Richard Boeckman.
Boeckman called Cates a friend as well as a colleague, someone who was sincere and willing to work hard for county residents.
“He truly had the interest of Barton County at heart,” Boeckman said. “He was a conscientious, well-prepared commissioner.”
The commission will next meet at 9 a.m. Monday at the Barton County Courthouse, 1400 Main in Great Bend.
Cates has a history of serving the public, beginning as a helicopter gunship pilot in Vietnam, where he flew more than 1,000 combat hours. He served in active duty from 1966 to 1972, with his last assignment in Korea as a VIP pilot.  He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal for Valor, Air Medal with Forty-Two Oak Leaf Clusters, Army commendation Medal and the Purple Heart. He then was staff aviation officer for the U.S. Army National Guard from 1974-76.
After the military, Cates worked as a career pilot for Air MidWest, Braniff Airlines and Midwest Airlines until mandatory commercial pilot retirement age of 60.
He worked in various capacities including chief pilot, director of training, and at his last airline job, as Skyway Airlines director of operations. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration with a minor in political science from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
He was first elected as a Barton County commissioner in 2010. Claflin’s Cates served the Commission’s Fourth District, which includes Ellinwood, Claflin, and the South Bend, Comanche, Lakin, Logan and Independent Townships.
“An old friend once told me, The hardest part of being great is staying great. My goal is to help keep Barton County a great place to live and work,” Cates said. “I have always admired people willing to give time and effort to public service that helps the community. It is an opportunity to do my part.”
The 94 store owner in Claflin had strong ties. As the son of Vivan and Thelma Cates, he moved to Red Wing in 1951 from Cushing, Okla. with his parents at the age of 5. The family moved to Claflin in 1954 and he graduated from Claflin High School in 1964.
Cates married his wife, Ginger Krug, in 1965 while attending Pratt Community College on a football scholarship. They celebrated their 45th anniversary in 2013. They have three daughters, four grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
Cates moved back to Claflin in 1996 and purchased Cates Service & Supply from Don’s father in 1999. Don changed the name of the business to The 94 Store, based upon the original telephone number of the business, which was #94. In 2008, the auto parts area was converted into a cafe, that served breakfast and lunch.
Cates also enjoyed auto racing, RVing and boating.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster