Community mourns loss of couple planning vineyard on Michigan's Beaver Island

Hani Barghouthi and Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

A plane crashed Saturday at Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan, killing four of the five people aboard, including Kate Leese and Adam Kendall, a couple who planted a vineyard and dreamed of opening a winery there.

Kate Leese and Adam Kendall died Saturday in a plane crash on Beaver Island. The couple recently moved to the island to establish Antho Vineyards after traveling the country for years.

EARLIER REPORT: Nomadic Michigan couple pushes limits to see what grapes can grow on Beaver Island

The 1:30 p.m. flight was headed to Welke Airport on Beaver Island from Charlevoix, said Lt. William Church of the Charlevoix County Sheriff's Office. 

The pilot, who has not been identified by authorities, and passenger Mike Perdue of Gaylord, a real estate agent, also died as a result of the crash, Church said. Perdue's daughter, 11, was the fourth passenger on the plane and sustained serious injuries. 

Leese, 35, a biochemist who grew up in Charlevoix, and Kendall, 37, an attorney and Jackson native, recently moved to Beaver Island after traveling the country for years.

They planted 2,100 vines on a fallow field this past spring with the idea of opening Antho Vineyards, a planned winery and tasting room that was welcomed by the island's local community of just 600 people.

“It feels like a place somewhere along the road where you could stop and have a glass of wine with new friends,” Leese told The Detroit News for a story published Nov. 6 on the newspaper's website and the Nov. 8 print edition. “Our goal is to have that kind of place that brings people together.” 

News of the tragedy stunned many in northern Michigan’s wine industry. Many were aware of the couple’s efforts to establish a vineyard on the remote island, through word of mouth or their Instagram account, or had been helping them in some way.

“The news is making its way through the wine industry pretty quickly. Everyone is heartbroken,” said Alaina Dodds, co-owner of Lake District Wine Co. in Traverse, where Leese frequently bought wine to supply frequent island guests or taste the varietals they were trying to grow on their farm.

“Kate is just one of those people you don’t forget,” said Dodds, who began following Leese on Instagram during the couple’s cross-country travels. “Kate and Adam were just two powerhouses. They were inspirational. They were just getting started with what they wanted to do. It’s tragic.”

Matt Killman, a winemaker at Walloon Lake Winery near Petoskey and a consulting winemaker for other wineries, was interested in Leese and Kendall’s vineyard plans on the island and communicated with them through social media. He had a standing invitation to visit the couple and their farm but never got the opportunity.

“Geographically, they were extremely close to us. They were doing something similar but different,” he said. “I think everyone in the industry they had communicated with was rooting for them. We wanted them to succeed. Planting grapes like that on an island in Michigan essentially embodied the frontier spirit of grape growing in Michigan. It’s frontier living almost. … It’s definitely going to be a huge loss.”

After the crash, the U.S. Coast Guard flew the pilot and Perdue's daughter to McClaren Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey, according to Brian McCrum, a public affairs specialist with the Coast Guard.

The two were flown on an MH-60 Jayhawk, a twin-engine helicopter often used by the Coast Guard for search and rescue missions. Officers were conducting routine training out of Air Station Traverse City when they received an emergency transmission from Beaver Island, McCrum said. 

The plane that crashed was a Britten-Norman BN-2A, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, a type of plane used to ferry people between the island and Charlevoix in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Mike Perdue was a real estate agent with Smith Realty Group in Gaylord. He regularly visited property that he owned on the island, according to Realtor Sheri Richards of Real Estate One, who said she and Perdue often worked with each other's clients. 

Perdue grew up in northern Michigan and was an active member of his community, according to his company profile. He began his career in real estate in 2012 and was a board member of the Otsego County Economic Alliance, vice president of Gaylord Little League, and served on the St. Mary Athletic Board. 

"He was always a gentleman," Richards said. "And he was always a positive, wonderful person."

Island Air, which operated the plane, declined to comment on the crash, citing the ongoing investigation. Representatives from the privately owned Welke Airport were not available for comment. 

Weather permitting, multiple flights make the 15-minute trip from Charlevoix to Beaver Island and back every day, according to Rachel Teague, manager at Beaver Island Airport.

Teague also owns Fresh Air, the other Charlevoix airline that operates this route. 

"Our hearts are broken," Teague said. "It’s a very tragic loss, and we’re here to service the island in the interim to make sure their needs are met.” 

No fatalities were recorded on any commercial flights along this route prior to Saturday, said Teague. 

Leese and Kendall told The News they were ready for a more stationary existence after spending three years on the road, pulling a renovated Airstream around the continental United States, working remotely. 

They found a property on Beaver Island after a random stop in fall 2019, in the wake of a boat trip up the northwestern Michigan coastline. 

“Almost immediately after we pulled into the marina here, we knew this was the level of quiet we were looking for,” Kendall said. “At night, there’s almost complete silence here. There’s no light pollution. You can hear every car (if one goes by). It’s the kind of place we had been looking for as our next spot.”

Their earlier, transient life included picking up and moving every three or four days, seeking out less-traveled parks and locales. During that time on the road, they left their former jobs and created their own company, the Kinetics Company, an emergency management consulting firm.

They lived in more than 220 places and continued to travel even after finding their niche on Beaver Island. It took them another year to secure the former farm property.

The loss of the couple has reverberated across Beaver Island.

“I didn’t realize how many people they touched, whether they knew them for five minutes or five months. They were beautiful, vibrant people,” said Miranda Roen, a photographer who moved to Beaver Island with her husband, Jake Abhau, a year ago in December.

They met Leese and Kendall soon afterward. “Every single time you walked in a building here — a grocery store or a bar or whatever — they’d have a huge smile and they’d come over and say hello. They always made time for other people.”

At a Christmas bazaar on the island Sunday, Roen couldn’t walk past a person without someone reaching out to offer a hug or condolences.

“Everyone here knows everyone,” she said.

Roen and her husband, who is known as "Moses" on the island, celebrated the couple’s birthdays with them at their 120-acre farm earlier this month. Chili and snacks, as well as a variety of wine, were offered, and after the meal, everyone, including 20 people and the couple’s two dogs, huddled in an igloo to escape the chill.

“They loved to be surrounded by people,” Roen said.

Richards, who helped the couple find their property when they moved to Beaver Island, called them "vibrant, energetic, full of life. ... They went above and beyond in their work and personal lives, and were very giving. ...

"It's very sad to see a couple in their 30s pass like that, it's very tragic." 

Kalin Sheick became friends with the couple after she began following Leese on Instagram as the nomadic pair was traveling the country in their Airstream. They bonded over “crazy life adventures” and having the same type of dog, Bernese Mountain dogs. She first met Kendall and Leese in 2016 and stayed in touch, visiting them on their farm this past summer.

“They were two of the most hard-working, brilliant, funny couples you could come across," said Sheick, owner of Sweetwater Floral in Petoskey.

Like others, Sheick was impressed with the pair’s determination to grow wine grapes on the island and to build a winery, despite the many challenges.

“They were making something special happen over there … it’s just an unfathomable tragedy,” she said.

 Associated Press contributed.