The proclamation honoring the late Barton County Commissioner Don Cates was approved by the Commission Monday morning. He died in a plane crash last Tuesday. The proclamation reads:
Honoring Commissioner Don Cates
WHEREAS, the single greatest connection between the public and its government is the elected official; and
WHEREAS, in a community like Barton County, that connection is paramount as the elected official is likely a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a businessman or an acquaintance; and
WHEREAS, it is vital that the elected official maintain a link to the public through personal and professional relationships. These links allow for a flow of information to and from the public, strengthening the voting power of the elected official; and
WHEREAS, Barton County, and particularly the citizens of Commission District 4, lost a valued leader when Don Cates was killed on April 22, 2014.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED that the Board of County Commissioners of Barton County, Kansas, do hereby proclaim Monday, April 28, 2014, as COMMISSIONER DON CATES DAY; and
WHEREAS, the citizens of Barton County are urged to remember Commissioner Cates for his strength of convictions, his dedication and his willingness to act on behalf of this County and it’s taxpayers;and
WHEREAS, it is noted that Commissioner Cates has given to the public for the majority of his life, having served in the WHAT and operating multiple businesses in this areas; and
WHEREAS, Barton County staff and administration ask that all citizens join in offering sympathy to the family, friends and business associates of Commissioner Cates.
ADOPTED this 28th day of April, 2014
When Proclamation 2014-08 came to a vote during the somber Barton County Commission meeting Monday morning, there was one very noticeable ballot absent.
The proclamation passed in honor of Commissioner Don Cates who died in an agricultural plane crash last Tuesday. The action declared Monday Don Cates Day in Barton County.
“I knew this morning was going to be a tough one,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “I came in and his chair was empty.”
The process to replace Cates is in place, but “they may fill the chair, but they won’t fill my heart,” Schartz said.
It was a solemn morning in the Commission chambers at the Barton County Courthouse as the death of county Cates cast a pall over the meeting. The front row of the packed room was filled with Cates’ family members, and, prior to opening gavel, there were plenty of hugs and tears as commissioners offered their condolences.
Schartz said she only knew Cates for four years, but she found in him a kindred spirit. Both arrived over an hour early for the Monday meetings to prepare and wound up having deep conversations.
“We used that hour to form a friendship beyond just being colleagues,” she said. They may have at time agreed to disagree, however, their relationship remained intact.
Cates had a way of making other people feel better about themselves, Schartz said. She respected his vast life experience and was honored when he asked her for advise.
He and his wife Ginger also went to Hays just after Schartz’s husband Shannon had a heart attack to be with her. “He was not only a gentleman, he was a gentle man,” she said.
His voice trembling, Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg said the number of people who showed up at Cates’ funeral and at the cemetery showed just how much of an impact the late commissioner made. “He was a shaper and we appreciated him.”
Cates often asked questions during meetings, but that wasn’t because he didn’t understand, said Commission Don Davis. “He was doing that for the public” so they would understand.
“I will forever remember him,” Commission Chairman Kenny Schremmer said.
Cates’ grandson Chris Cates offered a statement from the family. “We want to thank the county and the citizens for all their support,” he said.
He addressed each commissioner and County Administrator Richard Boeckman. “He thought very highly of you. He truly enjoyed being a commissioner and helping people.”:
Chris Cates then shook hands of his grandfather’s colleagues and removed Cates’ nameplate from the desk.
Cates, who was 67, died in a spray plan crash in Pawnee County last Tuesday. He was first elected as a commissioner in 2010, serving the Fourth District, which includes the cities of Claflin and Ellinwood, and Comanche, Independent, Lakin, Logan and South Bend townships.
He flew for Pratt’s Farmers Spraying Service and was owner of The 94 Store in Claflin. Cates was a helicopter gunship pilot in Vietnam, where he flew more than 1,000 combat hours, serving in active duty from 1966 to 1972.
Cates 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 was a staff aviation officer for the U.S. Army National Guard from 1974-76.
After the military, Cates worked as a career pilot until mandatory commercial pilot retirement age of 60. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration with a minor in political science from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.