For 26 years, Dean Kriz has been the go-to guy for Butler County men and women who have served in the nation’s armed forces.
The Butler County Board of Supervisors honored Kriz with a plaque on Aug. 21. The brief presentation was attended by members of the Veterans Service Committee and other county officials. Joey Ossian, appointed by the County Board to succeed Kriz, also was there.
County Board Charman Dave Mach presented the plaque and thanked Kriz for his dedication. Butler County is home to more than 600 veterans, and about 250 are on file with the local office.
“It was an honor and a privilege. I always said I worked for the most important people in the county, the veterans,” Kriz said. “Joey will take over and I’m sure he will do a great job.”
Kriz, asked about his years in the job, declined an interview offer. “I came in quietly, and I’m going out quietly,” he said to one request.
Members of the Butler County Veterans Service Committee, however, said Kriz deserves the praise he gets.
“He felt it in his heart about helping veterans,” said Don Prochaska, who was there with fellow committee members Don Hilger and John Lavicky. “Dean just picked it up and ran with it. He was very dedicated to serving the veterans of this county.”
Kriz had to be a quick study when he started, because his predecessor, Frank Keith, died after a short time in the office. Keith’s predecessor, Tony Hiller came back in and helped Kriz get started. Much of what a veterans service officer does is outside the experience of people who didn’t serve in the military. When veterans return from service or move to the county, they register at the County Clerk’s office so their veterans’ status is on file.
Kriz got a wide variety of requests, ranging from medical care questions to death benefits. The level of benefits depends on the veteran’s service. For example, those serving overseas would have a higher level of benefits than those who did not. Many veterans, committee member John Lavicky said, did not return from the service to live in Butler County, so if they return later in life, they have to get registered for their veterans benefits.
Prochaska said the veterans service officer also has a lot of contact with the families of veterans.
“When grandpa dies, and all of the kids live in Kalamazoo, the grandkids are wondering where to go for the benefits,” Prochaska said.
The graves of veterans are adorned with metal flag holders that denote the veteran’s service branch and the overseas deployment or conflict.
“Dean is responsible for getting all of that set up,” Hilger said. “He’s the one responsible for all of that.”
During Kriz’s tenure, many World War II veterans have passed away, the Korean War veterans have aged, and the Vietnam War veterans have passed retirement age.
Kriz fielded a wide variety of questions from veterans to make sure they got the benefits they deserve.
“When a veteran comes in, Dean usually answers all of those questions,” Hilger said. “There’s a lot of underlying things going on. If Dean doesn’t have the answer, he goes to find it.”
Ossian ready to go
Joey Ossian said he is ready to take on the challenge of the office.
Ossian, 53, served in active duty with the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987, currently serves as the paymaster for the Marine Corps League, Department of Nebraska. He has been a chaplain for the league since 2015.
”I’m fortunate in that over the last decade I’ve gone through the process with dean for my own claims,” Ossian said. “Having worked in Marine Corps League, Ihave developed a passion for it.”
Ossian’s resume also includes some experience in with the Nebraska Department of Corrections. More than a decade ago, he served with the 155th Maintentance Group of the Nebraska Air National Guard. He had a six month tour as a maintenance group executive officer for the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Group, Al Udeid, Qatar.
Ossian is a member of American Legion Post 125 in David City and is a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church. Past posts include judge advocate for the Marine Corps League, Cornhusker Detachment (370), Lincoln, and chief of staff of the Student Veteran’s Association, Central Community College, Columbus. Ossian was born in Tecumseh, Nebraska, but grew up in Big Rapids, Michigan. His family returned to Tecumseh in 1979, where he graduated from high school in 1983.
Ossian said that he looks to continue Kriz’s way of connecting with veterans. Veterans can’t always get the answers they want, but they can leave knowing that someone listened.
“They are all going to miss him. Dean has a great skill set when it comes to his people skills. People come in al kinds of moods but they usually leave happy because Dean is a good guy to visit with. They know he’s going to do everything he can for them,” Ossian said.
For Ossian, serving veterans is part of a lifelong experience with the military.
“I had a good service and I appreciate everything it did for me,” Ossian said.
Like others involved in veterans services, Ossian wasn’t surprised that Kriz was not interested in discussing his career.
“I’ve known Dean for a long time and he is a very humble person,” Ossian said.
Contact information and hours
Butler County Veterans Service Office, 402-367-7472. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.