PITTSBURG - Funeral arrangements have been made for Pittsburg philanthropist and businessman Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, whose national fame as a chicken producer made his name a household word.
Pilgrim passed away Friday. He was 89.
Details about a day and time for his service will be made available publicly as soon as they become available, a representative of Erman Smith Funeral Home in Pittsburg said early Saturday.
“I was sad to hear about the loss of Bo,” said former Tyler Mayor and state senator Kevin Eltife. “He was an incredible friend. He did so much for not only Northeast Texas, but the entire state. He started from nothing and built an incredible company, creating thousands of jobs. And he was active politically, and was instrumental in state government in promoting a great business environment. He was very supportive of me in my time in state government. Our prayers are with his family.”
The company’s origins date back to the 1940s when Aubrey Pilgrim and his partner, Pat Johns, purchased a Pittsburg feed and seed store, according to its company website.
Little brother “Bo” joined the efforts, working long hours to help keep the business afloat, incorporating new methods to boost production and efficiency.
The company expanded into Mt. Pleasant and things took an unexpected turn in the 1960s with the death of Aubrey Pilgrim, an event that pushed Bo Pilgrim into leadership as the company’s head.
The company weathered myriad financial storms over the years before stabilizing.
Pilgrim later passed the reins to son, Ken, but retained a role in the company.
Pilgrim’s Pride, a reported $9 billion industry with more than 35,000 employees, is today headed by CEO Bill Lovette, who accepted the position in 2011.
The company today works with more than 4,000 family farms throughout the United States and Mexico and is recognized as the second largest producer in the world, according to its website, processing more than 10 billion pounds annually.
PILGRIM THE MAN
Pilgrim, a man of faith, never forgot his roots, according to some who knew him.
His company is a key East Texas employer and investor in community endeavors, such as Pilgrim Bank situated in the heart of Pittsburg.
Pilgrim seemed especially fond of that small town, celebrated for peaches, historic homes and southern charm.
He built a home on the outskirts of town and a prayer park built in the 1990s is in the center of town.
It’s the latter that seems to provide a glimpse of the man behind the grandfatherly figure donning a Pilgrim hat in company commercials.
“It’s a hidden treasure,” longtime Pilgrim Bank official Charlotte Brewer said earlier this year, describing the impact the prayer park has made on the area. “It’s called Witness Park. Mr. Pilgrim is a born again Christian, and this was built as a depiction of the life of Christ.”
She serves as senior executive vice president and director of marketing for Pilgrim Bank, another Pittsburg institution.
The park features a reflection pool, 75-foot-tall Prayer Tower and towering walls of stained glass, depicting the life stages of Jesus Christ.
Four Paccard bells from France chime and play hymns on the hour.
A life-size bronze statue of Jesus washing the feet of the disciple Peter sits on the opposite.
The setting is enjoying a growing popularity in recent years as a destination for small weddings, bridal photos, prom pictures and family reunion snapshots.
Pilgrim was a regular morning visitor until earlier this year, Ms. Brewer said.
“It’s a tranquil, respite from stress,” she said. “It’s a gift to the community, for them to enjoy. Mr. Pilgrim is a visionary … People are proud to have it in a town we call home.”
In a related project, the late businessman is also credited for backing the recently completed Pilgrim Plaza, a one-acre site for sitting, reading and community gatherings.
Allen Weatherford, executive director of the Pittsburg - Camp County Chamber of Commerce, said earlier Pilgrim’s generosity is helping put the town on the list of traveler must-sees.
“A lot of people come here just to see the Prayer Tower and the Witness Park,” he said. “It’s a great thing for our area.”