Many children dream of being a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician as a child. Gene Wissmann of Union was all three.
Wissmann, a former Union fire chief and one of the founders of the Union Ambulance District, died Monday, May 18, at 77 of a rare nerve disorder.
“He just loved serving in the whole general area,” said his wife, Donna Wissmann. “He had a great love for law enforcement. That might have been his first choice of a career, to be a highway patrolman.”
Along with his fire and ambulance work, Gene Wissmann was a reserve officer with the Union Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Tom Nuernberger, his friend of 44 years, said Wissmann was one of the first law enforcement officers on the scene when the Franklin County Courthouse was bombed in November 1969.
The bombing was done to divert attention from an armed robbery at the United Bank of Union and to knock out communications in the sheriff’s office, which was then located in the courthouse. No one was killed but several people were injured.
“He was law enforcement, he was EMS and he was a firefighter,” said Nuernberger, who is retiring Friday from his position at Mercy Hospital Washington. “He was wearing three hats there.”
And all those were volunteer positions. Gene Wissmann’s day job was with Southwestern Bell, where he was in management for 29 years before retiring in 1991. Nuernberger said that meant working in his emergency positions on nights, weekends and vacation days.
And companies were flexible about letting employees tend to emergencies.
“Some of the employers back then would allow you to work on that type of stuff,” Nuernberger said. “It was a tight-knit community back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”
Wissmann was one of seven founders of the ambulance district after changes in law meant the Oltmann family of Union could no longer provide ambulance service. The district has grown to three full-time crews working 24 hours a day.
Last year, Wissmann and Nuernberger were among the speakers at a 50th anniversary ceremony for the ambulance district.
“He was just a very common sense type of guy,” Nuernberger said. “He was a true asset to the community over the years.”
Along with his time with the ambulance district, Wissmann spent 20 years with the fire department, reaching chief in the early 2000s, 15 years with the sheriff’s office and 12 with Union Police, his wife said.
After retiring from Southwestern Bell, Gene Wissmann worked for Oltmann Funeral Home for 25 years. Donna Wissmann said that was in keeping with his commitment to serving families.
“He really loved being with people and serving the people,” she said.
A visitation at Oltmann, in Union, was planned for 4-8 p.m. Thursday, May 21, with a funeral service at 10 a.m. Friday, May 22, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Union.
Serving the community ran in the family. Donna Wissmann was Franklin County treasurer for a term, his son Kevin Wissmann is a firefighter with the Saline Valley Fire Protection District and a granddaughter is now an EMT.
“He loved his family, that was probably the most important thing in his life,” Donna Wissmann said. “He was just a wonderful man, he loved his god, family and country.”
Gene Wissmann’s life was quickly taken by Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare, rapidly progressing degenerative nerve disorder that is always fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His wife said he was diagnosed with the disease April 15.