Bill Kuegel, a Daviess County farmer whose influence reached much farther than his west county farm, died Monday at the age of 94.
The community came together Monday to pay their respects to Kuegel’s family at a visitation at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, where Kuegel has been an 80-year member and served as deacon.
Kuegel was also a mentor for Daviess County Ag Extension Agent Clint Hardy throughout his education and career.
“Bill was a person who had so much influence, but not because of his notoriety or fame, but because he could empower others,” Hardy said. “He helped people do more than they ever thought themselves capable of doing.”
Hardy said, though Kuegel operated a diverse farm, his role in local agriculture was not defined by the crops he grew.
“His role in our community was the organizations he was involved in, the ag education he promoted, the religious groups he supported and the community he lead,” Hardy said.
Kuegel was the 1977 Man of Year in service to Kentucky agriculture by Progressive Farmer magazine. Kentucky Farm Bureau named him Kentucky’s “Outstanding Leader in Agriculture” in 2006 and “Man of the Year in Service to Kentucky Agriculture” in 2007. He was instrumental in bringing the local agriculture and business communities together by creating the Farm City Breakfast — an event that celebrated its 40th year earlier this month.
He served on the boards of Brescia University, Georgetown College, Independence Bank, the Owensboro Riverport, Western Kentucky Botanical Gardens, BB&T and was one of the oldest graduates of Leadership Kentucky at 82. Kuegel was chairman of the Kentucky State Fair Board, a Shriner and served on the governor’s council on agriculture.
“A lifelong farmer, Bill lived one of his many ‘sayings’ — if you aren’t at the table, you will find yourself on the menu,” Kuegel’s obituary read. “Bill became involved where he thought he could make a difference. If he served on a board or committee, he showed up, just as he did for work most every day of his life.”
A lifelong Democrat, Kuegel served as the executive chairman of the Democratic party and helped friend Wendell Ford as he transitioned from his office of governor to senator. Kuegel was instrumental in representing the Kentucky farmer in both local and state government, and even met with President Jimmy Carter to discuss the 1977 Farm Strike.
Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Candance Brake met Kuegel while working at Fiscal Court, where she watched him work with governors and congressional leaders for projects and policies that impacted the Daviess County community.
“Bill Kuegel is a giant. Not was — he is,” Brake said. “He and his circle literally and figuratively put Owensboro on the map not only around our Commonwealth, but around our country.”
Beyond that, Brake said Kuegel spent a lifetime encouraging others to lead, value work ethic and serve.
“And at the core of his life was always his family,” Brake said.
Kuegel was the oldest of six children born to Martin Michael Kuegel and Cecil Crabtree. He grew up on Lee Scherm’s Farm on Big Ditch Road, now known as Carter Road. At a young age, Bill was milking cows by hand and plowing fields with tenant farmers. The Kuegel family followed tenant farming jobs to other farms in western Kentucky, but ultimately settled into a farm in Rome in western Daviess County.
Bill attended the brand new Sorgho School, which replaced a one-room schoolhouse, and was among the first class to graduate. It was at Sorgho school that Bill met his wife Carrie Lee Newman. Bill went on to graduate from Daviess County High School and eventually attended Georgetown College.
Coinciding with D-Day in June of 1944, Kuegel entered the Marine Corps. To serve during World War II. Kuegel left his Kentucky home with fiancee Carrie Lee and began training at Camp Pendelton in San Diego. Six months later he was deployed to Pavuvu in the Solomon Islands, northwest of the Guadal Canal, an important area in taking over Japanese strongholds.
On Easter morning, April 1, 1945, Kuegel was shipped out from Pavuvu to take the island of Okinawa, Japan. After the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war was over, but Kuegel and his company were charged with liberating China from Japan.
In July 1946, Kuegel was able to return home. He boarded a ship that took him to San Diego and when he arrived back in Owensboro, he was reunited with Carrie Lee. The two married in November 1946 at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, where the Kuegel family had always attended. For a small period of time, Bill re-enrolled at Georgetown College, but the distance from home and his new bride kept him from finishing his degree. Georgetown College awarded Kuegel an honorary doctorate degree 63 years later.
The couple began a small dairy farm and Bill began working with his brothers, building Kuegel Enterprises. Soon the dairy grew to 300 cows, and the Kuegels began growing tobacco and grain, making them one of the biggest farm operations in Daviess County.
In the 1950s Kuegel Enterprises continued to grow, adding more land, equipment and workers. In the meantime, Bill and Carrie Lee grew their family, with the addition of son, William Martin “Rod” Kuegel, and daughter, Marcia Lee Kuegel.
Funeral services are at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 13, at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church with burial following at the church cemetery.