Richard LaCroix, former Calumet and FDL Co. agent leaves behind lasting legacy
Richard "Dick" LaCroix of Stoughton, considered a role model by many, has left a lasting legacy to those in the Wisconsin ag and dairy industries. LaCroix passed away on Aug. 31 at the age of 75 due to kidney and heart failure.
LaCroix grew up on a dairy-hog farm and played football for University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 60's, where he earned his bachelor's degree in dairy science and his master's in soil science. LaCroix held many roles in Wisconsin ag, many of them teaching and supervisory.
He began working for the UW extension system after graduation as a manager of the Spooner and Ashland Agricultural Research Stations. He then became an extension dairy agent for Calumet and Fond du Lac counties, where he met with and taught local farmers.
LaCroix was later a regional manager with Associated Milk Producers, Inc., where he supervised milk procurement. He then joined the feed industry as a dairy specialist for GROWMARK, Land O' Lakes and Kent Feeds, but after a company bankruptcy, he worked for Cooperative Resources International as a project manager.
He finally landed as vice president of product services and development at AgSource Cooperative. In retirement, he continued to work part-time as an agricultural specialist and consultant for American Transmission Company.
LaCroix also built a family with his wife Mary, to whom he was married for 54 years. The couple had three children – Christopher, Damian and Jessica – and 10 grandchildren.
His daughter Jessica Schrimpf said LaCroix had a special love for cows and soil, always talking about milk prices and the farmers down the road. She said he also devoted time to reading farm journals and newspapers up until his last days so he could keep up with the ever-changing ag industry. Some of those subscriptions included Hoard's Dairy, The Country Today, National Geographic and even the Wisconsin State Farmer.
She said he served as a "voice for the farmers" and advocated for them in fair pricing initiatives and education. LaCroix also had connections with farmers all over the state, she added, saying that he was invested personally in people and their stories.
"He just had a love for the farmer. His connections to the farmers was, I think, his biggest attribute," Schrimpf said. "We drove to his brother's funeral in Manitowoc County a few years ago and he knew the names of every farmer that we passed, every couple. For someone to remember all that over time, their names and their story... I think that's pretty important."
Schrimpf said her father taught farmers to lead the next generation not by looking down at their children, but to walk alongside them and teach them as an equal. She also said LaCroix had a way of talking to farmers that made them feel comfortable, that he truly listened to their concerns and fears.
The LaCroix children grew up on a hobby farm where they kept chickens, pigs and horses and also had a pick-your-own strawberry field. Schrimpf said her dad instilled a good work ethic in her and her siblings through the farm work, and she's since passed it on to her own three children.
"I continue to share with my children the importance of work hard and then play hard," Schrimpf said. "We got up early, we did our chores, then we felt accomplished and at night we enjoyed playing basketball or playing cards. We felt very good about our days, and then we were able to sit back and relax at night."
Schrimpf said her father earned many awards throughout his career, which dotted the walls of his office along with "cow paraphernalia" and framed pictures of farms. He was once named Dairyman of the Year by the World Dairy Expo, was also the County Agent of the Year in Calumet County and earned an honorable mention from Hoard's Dairyman.
Ken McKenzie was one of LaCroix's colleagues while they worked at AMPI many decades ago. He said they were first acquainted at a Badger football game in the 70's, after LaCroix had lettered in varsity football there a decade earlier. The two were part of the same fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho.
McKenzie said LaCroix was loyal, strong-willed and a family man. He was an exemplary manager at AMPI, McKenzie said, because he always stood up for all members of the cooperative, not just the board members, because some managers gave into the pressure of using their influence to benefit board members over others. LaCroix never catered to anyone, McKenzie said.
"What struck me was that he always seemed very loyal back to the member level, not preferring the board of directors farm member, not catering to anyone," McKenzie said. "That could be a conflict of interest of representing the guy down the road, too. (He worked) for everybody."
McKenzie said that despite his large, wrestler-like stature that could sometimes be intimidating, LaCroix always had warmth and a big grin for those he knew – and he also cared about the business and sticking up for the little man. LaCroix's work impacted hundreds of families and farmers while he worked as a county dairy agent, too.
"He was always happy to see a familiar and friendly face," McKenzie said. "He would break into that big grin, and there was a warmth to this massive man."
Schrimpf said her father passed "with grace," and even though he wished he could turn back time, he was strong and perserverant through his illness.
"My dad was a gracious man. He gave back to others by his volunteerism or sponsoring a child in need. He had an enormous and generous heart," she said. "Now that he's passed, I wish I would have listened closer. He had so much wisdom to share."