Pilgrim partnered with his brother Aubrey, and his business partner, Pat Johns soon after the two bought a Pittsburg-based feed and seed business in 1946. The company grew to one of the world’s largest poultry producers and processors before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008 and emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. The company reached an agreement with Greeley, Colorado-based JBS USA, a subsidiary of São Paulo, Brazil-based JBS SA in 2009, to sell 64 percent of Pilgrim’s stock. JBS USA now controls 78.5 percent of its stock.
Lonnie Pilgrim was born on May 8, 1928 — named in honor of his father, Alonzo, he said — in Pine, Tex., a town of 80 to 100 people at the time.
The fourth of seven children (two others died in infancy), he was called Bo by relatives from an early age. His father owned one of two stores in the town, called the Pine Grocery and Post Office.
When his father died of a heart attack in 1939, his mother, Gertrude, took over the store and ran it for the next 20 years.
Aubrey Pilgrim died of a heart attack at 42. Pilgrim also survived a late 1980s business downturn in which the company was losing $1 million a week, a result of sharply rising feed costs and a glutted chicken market. Fearing bankruptcy, Pilgrim agreed to sell out to Tyson Foods, the world’s largest poultry concern, but Tyson backed out of the deal and Pilgrim recovered.
Mr. Pilgrim retired in 2010. He is survived by his wife; his sons Ken and Patrick; his daughter, Greta Henson; a sister, Sue Hester Kellam; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.