Something different

After a lifetime of travel, retired general and his wife find 40-acre horse farm in Butler County

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Cheri Pagonis cheerfully recounts that she moved 30 times in 29 years to accommodate her husband's successful career. She followed him to job assignments all over the country and to more exotic posts, including Germany and Saudi Arabia.

It was quite a career, and by the time William Pagonis, who is called Gus, retired from the Army in 1993, he was a three-star general. However, the couple's retirement was sidetracked when the general was recruited for a corporate job.

He worked for 11 years in Chicago as president for supply chain logistics at Sears. The job was literally created for him because Gen. Pagonis was chief of logistics in Desert Storm, orchestrating the transfer of thousands of troops and tons of military equipment to the Persian Gulf.

The couple agreed their next move should take them closer to their roots: He grew up in Charleroi, a Washington County mill town, and she grew up on a farm in Indiana County. This time Cheri Pagonis would get to pick where she wanted to live.

Working with real estate agents, Mrs. Pagonis spent nearly a year looking at houses and property all over Western Pennsylvania. When she found the house of her dreams, the general was surprised but accommodating.

"I thought we would live in a condo in Pittsburgh," Gen. Pagonis said. "She found a house with 40 acres and a 25-stall horse barn" near Evans City in Connoquenessing Township.

What to do with those 25 empty stalls?

"Sherry said she didn't want to retire and just sit around," Gen. Pagonis said.

"I've done volunteer work all my life," Mrs. Pagonis said. "I wanted to do something, but I wanted to do something different."

The stalls would be filled with horses, she said, and the retirement spread would be called C&G Ranch.

The ranch is a full-service, state-of-the-art boarding, training and breeding facility, according to the news release issued by the ranch's public relations firm.

The primary focus is boarding and training Arabian, half-Arabian and Dutch harness horses, though all types of horses are welcome to board there.

Ranch trainer Jason Chiles trains the horses owned by the Pagonises and clients, readying the horses and their riders for horse show competition.

The heart and soul of C&G's breeding operation centers around the resident stallion, a 5-year-old Dutch harness horse named Unbelievable. Already a big winner in the show ring, he is being bred to purebred Dutch harness horse mares and Arabian mares. Four of his foals were delivered last month at C&G Ranch.

There will be other Unbelievable foals around the country, for part of the C&G Ranch operation includes collecting semen from the stallion and shipping it around the country for mares who are artificially inseminated.

Unbelievable fills a niche that Gen. Pagonis was looking for. Many people have never heard of a Dutch harness horse, and there aren't too many of them in this country, so far.

Mr. Chiles exercises the stallion in the indoor show arena. A big horse -- over 16 hands tall -- his glossy coat is a dark color -- not quite black -- known as liver chestnut.

The breed was developed in Holland 100 years ago for people who wanted their carriages pulled by flashy horses with a high-stepping trot.

Unbelievable demonstrated those gaits for a photographer and visitors. Mr. Chiles shows him both in saddle classes and driving classes, where he pulls a cart. The stallion's pewter and bronze trophies are displayed in the ranch game room.

Gus and Sherry Pagonis emphasize that theirs is a family operation that relies on a strong support team.

Mr. Chiles, 29, is young to be a head trainer at a horse ranch. He's pleased with the opportunity and the Pagonises are pleased with his skills and his show ring wins with Unbelievable.

Ranch foreman is Ray Wohl, who retired from the Army with 20 years service. He served with Gen. Pagonis for many years, much of that time working as his driver and providing security.

Sandy Murphy is groom and helps with the training.

They hired John Fries Communications for their public relations work, after meeting Mr. Fries in church.

Daughter-in-law Kristin Pagonis, who grew up around horses in Texas, is training with Mr. Chiles and readying an Arabian horse for competition. Her 20-month-old daughter, Keilyn, has been riding with her mom since she was a babe in arms, and one of the new foals has already been designated as hers. Robert Pagonis, 37, Kristin's husband and Keilyn's dad, just opened an Uno Chicago Grill in Cranberry.

"I grew up in the restaurant and bar business in Charleroi," Gen. Pagonis noted. After serving three years in the Army, Robert Pagonis went to culinary school.

The couple's other son, Lt. Col. Gust Pagonis, 41, has been in the Army for 20 years and is currently serving in Iraq. His wife, Sony, and their children -- Joshua, William and Kristina, live in Fort Hood, Texas.

At the C&G Ranch, the general is Cheri Pagonis. The retired general is serving under her as a chief financial officer. He is also still working, virtually full time, in Downtown Pittsburgh on two corporate boards.

"My wife says I've flunked retirement," he says with a chuckle.


Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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