Gary Riesen was a good friend, community contributor and gifted attorney
Rick Schrader remember’s how uncomfortable and out of place he felt when he moved to Wenatchee as a junior high school student. One fellow student made it a point to befriend Schrader and invite him into his circle of friends — Gary Riesen, the late Chelan County Prosecutor.
Thus began a lifelong friendship. The two were hunting buddies and, with their wives, they traveled all over the world in recent years.
That Riesen showed kindness and humanity to a fellow student was a precursor to how he conducted his life, both in the courtroom, as a supervisor, a friend and as a community contributor serving the Wenatchee YMCA, Ducks Unlimited and the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association.
Riesen had a rare combination of attributes — he was extremely intelligent, unflappable, humble, caring and resolute. He was a genuinely nice guy.
Schrader, a retired dentist, said Riesen was frequently honored as having the “worst job” at Wenatchee High School class reunions. It is a thankless job, but one that Riesen did extraordinarily well.
Gary was the son of Walt Riesen, a pillar in the community who became president of Columbia Federal Savings and Loan. The sense of community contribution that defined his father was something that Gary took to heart as well.
John Bridges and Riesen became law partners at Foster, Riesen and Bridges, prior to Riesen becoming prosecuting attorney and Bridges joining the Chelan County Superior Court.
“He was smart and could figure out legal problems really quick,” Bridges said. He stayed on an even keel when things got heated in the courtroom. “He treated everybody with respect” and had a strong moral compass, said Bridges.
“The community should be thankful they had a really good prosecutor for all those years,” Bridges said, even though he made decisions that made folks unhappy at times. “He was honest, straightforward and always tried to follow the law,” Bridges said.
Doug Shae, who succeeded Riesen as prosecutor, recalled that Gary was a great mentor when he was getting started in the profession. Riesen didn’t demand respect from those who worked with him in the prosecutor’s office, but they gave him respect because “they wanted to do a good job for Gary,” said Shae.
Riesen cared about the people in his office as human beings, not just as workers. When Shae’s father was dying, “Gary was right there to see how I was doing,” Shae said.
“The prosecutor sees people often on the worst day of their life,” said Shae. “When they saw Gary on that day, he always gave them some comfort as well as the truth about what was going on,” Shae said.
That sense of humanity was a defining character trait for Riesen in every aspect of his life.
Everett Gahringer was a hunting buddy of Riesen’s dating back to the 1980s, when they were involved with Ducks Unlimited. “He was the most easy going, level-headed guy I ever knew,” said Gahringer. “Whatever the circumstances, Gary never got riled,” he added.
Gahringer recalled the time they were heading to go hunting near Moses Lake and the roadway was slick. Gahringer was driving and his truck started fishtailing. “Gary never said a word,” Gahringer marveled. When they reached their destination, Riesen said ‘it’s a little slick out there, isn’t it?’ That was it,” Gahringer said.
I had the honor of working with Riesen on the YMCA board of trustees for a number of years and found him to be thoughtful, smart and a terrific listener. When he spoke, the rest of us paid close attention.
His friends relied on his wisdom and thoughtful perspective when they discussed challenges they were having. Riesen was devoted to his family and friends.
Reisen had been having some serious medical issues in recent months. Even so, the fact that he took his life is something that was completely out of character to someone who was so unflappable. His friends think his medical condition impaired his judgment.
Gary Riesen was an exemplary prosecuting attorney with a strong moral compass, a tireless community contributor, and a great friend to many. A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at Kings Church of Christ. Masks will be required.