For over 34 years, the mild-mannered Richard Wassinger has climbed the courthouse steps to his office where he has overseen the financial processes of Cass County as its official treasurer.
He will leave tremendously large footprints to fill as a new treasurer takes his place following the 2018 elections.
“I have decided not to run for another term. I was 73 years old as of Jan. 8, and I think it will be almost 36 years as treasurer when I retire,” he said.
Wassinger was raised in Grand Island where he graduated from Grand Island Catholic School in 1963. Following graduation, he attended University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he earned a business administration degree in 1968. He earned a master’s degree in education in 1972.
Due to the Vietnam War, however, Wassinger was unable to pursue his business career until 1971.
“In April 1968, I was drafted and went into the U.S. Army. At that time the Vietnam War was heating up,” he recalled. “The army had a student deferment, but when I got my degree, I was moved up to 1-A, which makes you ready for the draft. I couldn’t get a job because no one wanted to hire someone who might be drafted soon, so I volunteered for the draft at a time when 93 percent were going to Vietnam.”
Wassinger underwent basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington. After basic training, he did Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. “I trained to be a field artillery meteorologist,” he said. “We sent up weather balloons and recorded data.”
At Sill he received his orders to be stationed in Vietnam starting in August 1968. When he arrived at the Bien Hoa base, Wassinger met with the military person who gave the new soldiers their assignments. “When he heard my name, he asked if I knew Vicki Wassinger. She was my cousin,” he explained. “Here I was in a country 1,722 miles from home among thousands of people and I meet someone who knows my cousin.”
Instead of being assigned as an artillery meteorologist, he was made a clerk typist at the base camp of Ben Hoi. Despite the desk assignment, Wassinger and others on the base remained in danger as the war continued. “They processed troops leaving the country there, so they could go back to the United States. Due to this situation we got mortared and rocketed quite a bit. You could be walking to the mess hall for meals when the sirens would go off.”
Wassinger said he had guard duty every other night, which entailed walking the perimeter with a machine gun and grenade launcher. When his mother passed away in December 1968, he was given leave to come home. “When I came back on emergency leave, I was reassigned to Fort Riley in Kansas. I did what I needed to do. I’m glad I did. I was more fortunate than many others, but I don’t feel like anyone owes me anything. I served my country.”
In January 1970, Wassinger was honorably discharged from the military and he returned to UN-L to earn a teaching certificate.
There, he met the love of his life, Ruth, in the “methods class” and a typing class they shared.
“There were two guys and about 10 women in the typing class,” he said. “The women typed 120 words per minute. I was at about 65.”
He and Ruth started dating, and she eventually got a job teaching in Fairbury. “I got a teaching job in Plattsmouth, so we married in June 1972 and she got a job in Plattsmouth.”
After teaching basic business classes, Wassinger felt a need to pursue another career. “I was at a point in teaching where I wondered, ‘Can I do something else? I had been doing booking keeping for the Plattsmouth Journal since 1971.”
He was hired by Plattsmouth Journal where he worked as a bookkeeping and advertizing manager for five years. “It was a good experience,” he said.
When the treasurer resigned, a county board member asked him to fill the position. “I was appointed to fill that term,” he said. “Since then, I have run unopposed in eight elections. This year would have been my ninth election for my 10th term as county treasurer.”
During his terms, he served on many boards and committees for the Nebraska Association of County Treasurers, and served as chairman twice. He also served as president of the Southeast District and was appointed by former Gov. Dave Heineman to serve on the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Board for 10 years. In 2008, Wassinger was named County Official of the Year for the Nebraska Association of County Officials.
Now, Wassinger believes it’s time to start enjoying his retirement years traveling and spending more time with his two children, Andrew and Kristine, and five growing grandchildren.
“After a certain amount of time you kind of slow down,” he explained. “I worked hard for my retirement and it’s time to reap the benefits.”
Wassinger said he would like to go to Hawaii and back to Ireland. “There are some of the eastern states I have not visited. I love Boston,” he said.
Leaving the treasurer’s office after so many years has its bittersweet side.
“I’ll miss dealing with the people. I got to know several outstanding people. I enjoyed dealing with all types of people and being able to help them resolve a lot of situations. I’ve also always been blessed by a good staff,” he said.