Roger Capps: 1935-2006
Prairie Farms CEO launched recent effort to boost school milk.
Our opportunity is now,” Roger Capps told Dairy Field in October 2005, referring to efforts he spearheaded to enhance the school milk experience and help build a new generation of dairy consumers.
The combination of new flavors, better formulations, flashier cartons and organized marketing was a success, leading Prairie Farms Dairy Inc. to expand the program to other schools in its territory.
Capps, chief executive officer and executive vice president of the Carlinville, Ill.-based processor, died July 15 after a short battle with cancer. He was 70.
“I respected Roger and frequently relied on his wisdom and advice,” said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “Roger was a fine gentleman and a strong supporter of our organization. We’ll miss his input and ideas for the industry, but I will miss him most as a friend.”
Capps was born November 14, 1935, in Hedrick, Iowa. After attending Iowa State University, he began his career in 1955 with Sugar Creek, a division of Kraft Foods. Capps rose swiftly through the ranks at Kraft, holding managerial positions in Illinois and New York, where he became vice president of Kraft’s Sealtest/Breyers division.
In June 1977, Roger joined Prairie Farms as vice president of production and operations. By 1994, he had risen to senior vice president and chief operating officer, and in 2000 succeeded Leonard Southwell as executive vice president and CEO.
“Roger was an industry visionary, and his contributions to Prairie Farms and the dairy industry are numerous,” says a tribute to Capps in the company’s corporate newsletter this month. “Most recently, he can be credited for the success of the St. Louis School Milk Test, which revolutionized the relationship between dairy processors and schools.  With childhood obesity on the rise and per capita milk consumption by school-age children declining, Roger decided it was time to begin treating schools and children as customers and consumers.”
Or as Capps told DF last October: “We want milk to be something that’s an enjoyment for the children. … The drive here is to make an attractive beverage for children to enjoy, not only in grade school but in high school and adult life.”
This past March, months of work led by Capps culminated in Prairie Farms’ acquisition of Turner Dairy Holdings, an expansion the company expects to further strengthen its position as one of the nation’s leading dairy companies. Just two days before his death, he attended a board meeting at which he outlined ambitious goals for the company with every intention of seeing them through.
Capps was a member of IDFA, International Ice Cream Association (director since 1989, secretary 2002-04), Milk Industry Foundation (director since 1999), MilkPEP, National Conference on Weights and Measures, Illinois Food Safety Task Force and Illinois Food and Dairy Sanitarians.
Capps is survived by his wife, Patti, with whom he would have celebrated their 50th anniversary in September; other survivors include two daughters, a son and five grandchildren.
“We will continue to grow and evolve in his honor,” the company’s tribute says, “and be guided by his fundamental principle of ‘doing right.’”