There were few hints of what was to come during Ken Rietz’s childhood in
Wisconsin. Sports year round —
swimming and baseball in the
summer; ice fishing, sledding, and
ice hockey in the winter. Rietz and
his older brother, Dick, shared a
paper route. Rietz began playing
tennis — a sport that would
eventually become an indicator of
his failing vision.
In addition to being a good
athlete, Rietz developed an interest
in student government and local
politics. He was a member of the
Local Youth Council created by
the city of Oshkosh to give young
people a voice in city activities. Later his interest in
politics morphed into leadership roles in a number of
political campaigns — beginning at the congressional
level and reaching all the way to presidential
campaigns and the White House.
Rietz’s football skills qualified him to letter in
the sport in high school and, in 1959, receive an
appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy to play for the
Navy Midshipmen. (He passed the vision test required
for the academy because the test didn’t include any
examination of night vision or peripheral vision below
his nose.) Ironically, it was a back injury and not his
vision that forced Rietz to leave the academy and
football. But, that change opened a new door.
Next for Rietz was studying as an undergrad at
George Washington University — located a few blocks
from the White House. “GWU was a fertile ground
for my interest in volunteer activities and politics,”
Rietz writes. One experience included swimming in
the White House pool at the invitation of Lyndon
Johnson’s niece, a fellow GW student.
While he was still a GW student, Rietz’s first job in
Washington, D.C., was in the office of Sen. Earnest
Gruening, a Democrat from Alaska, that included
making sure the automatic typewriters that would
churn out response letters to the Congressman’s
constituent mail did not jam. From humble
beginnings, a career that spanned the arc of national
politics — working throughout the country both
inside and outside the political structure — was built.
“Managing a campaign is a little bit of many things.
You have to be an organizer, motivator, press secretary,
writer, debate coach, driver, haberdasher, marriage
guidance counselor, part-time shrink, the candidate’s
Athlete, Political Consultant, Foundation Volunteer
Ken Rietz and his wife, Ursula, at a recent book signing event.