Excitement followed by loss for Dane County Farm Technology hosts
The excitement came on Feb. 11 when Statz Brothers Farms of Sun Prairie was selected to host the 2015 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days (FTD) in Dane County. Now owned and operated by Joe Statz, with his cousins Troy and Wes Statz, Statz Brothers Farms milks more than 2,700 cows and farms some 6,000 acres of land.
Brothers Don - called Donnie by family and friends - and Richard Statz and their wives Shirley and Veronica, purchased the farm in 1966 and have grown it from one location with a herd of 40 cows to what it is today with three generations of family farmers, 75 full-time employees, cows being milked in three locations and the county's first manure digester.
The family is currently expanding the former Blaska farm, located south of the home farm, to about a 2,000-cow capacity.
But the excitement of that FTD announcement was quickly followed by tragedy for the family as Donald Statz, 74, died on Friday, Feb. 15, at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison - just four days after the announcement that his family would be hosting the show.
Donnie is survived by his wife of 50 years, Shirley, and his four children. His son, Joe said that his dad died while recovering from minor kidney surgery and that "it may take weeks" before they learn the cause of death.
I live about five miles from the Statz farm and got to know Don many years ago. We were not close personal friends, rather dairy and farming friends, and I've written about the Statz dairy operation a number of times over the past 22 years.
I knew them well enough to know that Don and Rich Statz were hard workers, that they loved their big red equipment and farmed a lot of land.
They did not attend many big farm meetings such as Dairy Business Association or Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin. "Too busy," Don once told me.
I remember so well one meeting Don did attend. It was the UW-Arlington Research Farm fall open house in 2000. We were walking through the new barn that officials were showing off and Don paused, looked at me and said, "John, we'd better get out of here."
I asked him why, not knowing if he was serious. In fact, I thought he was kidding.
"This barn is going to fall down," Statz said. "Look at the trusses, they're made wrong. Believe me, it's going to fall down. I've built enough buildings to know and it's going to fall down."
I still didn't know whether to believe him until early in the morning of Dec. 30, 2000, when the barn did indeed fall down. A later investigation showed that, yes, the trusses were built wrong. Donnie Statz was right.
We talked about the incident on occasion over the years and Statz always admonished me by saying, "See, you should have believed me."
I always replied, "But, you never want me to quote you" - which he didn't - and he'd nod his head in agreement.
The Statz family generally avoided publicity and were not regular stops on the tour program for visitors to World Dairy Expo.
Knowing the family's aversion to publicity, I was a bit surprised to hear they were going to host FTD. I'm so sorry that Don will not be there in person to see how it all turns out.