On Monday morning, Barton County Commissioner Don Cates told a colleague he planned to work in neighboring Pawnee County the following day. The 67-year-old was a pilot by trade.
He was scheduled to do some crop dusting.
But around 1 p.m. Tuesday, the ultralight, single-engine plane he was piloting nose-dived into a ditch about a mile and a half north of the tiny town of Garfield, leaving Cates dead and the county he served in shock. He was the only one aboard at the time of the crash.
“He was an experienced pilot. We talked about his work off and on. He enjoyed it,” Barton County Counselor-Administrator Richard Boeckman said.
People have been “very unhappy to hear about his death,” he said.
“The universal response was sadness and that he will be missed.”
Cates was flying southeast when his plane hit a power line at G Road near Garfield at 1:09 p.m. Tuesday, the Kansas Highway Patrol said in a crash report. The plane continued airborne past a row of trees, then descended to the ditch, where it struck a row of hay bales.
The aircraft came to rest on 210th Road, the highway patrol said. Cates died at the scene.
Boeckman remembered Cates as a dedicated commissioner who was always “very interested in doing what he thought was the right things for the citizens of Barton County” and who was respectful of everyone’s points of view.
Cates joined the five-member commission in 2010, serving rural areas south and southeast of Great Bend as well as Ellinwood and Claflin, where he lived with his wife, Ginger.
Before that, he flew both commercially and in the military.
“I only knew him for about two and a half years, but he was dedicated to any job he ever had,” Commissioner Don Davis said Tuesday evening by phone.
“He flew quite a few missions in Vietnam, and he flew commercially for 29 years,” he said. When he retired, Cates ran for the commission, Davis said.
“He was always the first one there and the last one to leave,” he continued.
“Everything we ever worked, on he knew all the ifs and ands and why fors on it. He was a good man.”
During his term, Cates focused on keeping Barton County’s infrastructure top-notch and was mindful of county spending, Boeckman said.
He was preparing to seek a second term in the fall.
“He always said that he wanted to make sure that the county was as good or better when he left” as it was when he joined the commission, Boeckman said.
“I think that although he’s left us sooner than what we thought he would, that he’s done that.”