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Bob and Lois Kussman

"Invest...first in yourself, your family, your future!" - Robert Kussman, 2014
Friday the 13th was Robert N. Kussman’s lucky day!  Twice he beat the odds and survived almost certain peril on that ominous day. 

At age 12 with his family, Bob’s father immigrated to Portland, Oregon from Vis, a small Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea and finally settled in Astoria.  Bob’s father was trained to be a plumber, eventually named Master Plumber #1 in the State of Oregon. During that time, he met Bob’s mother as she attended business school.   Bob was born on March 15, 1925 and raised in Astoria with his only sister, Frances.  Bob’s father was committed to hard work and investing in securing his children’s future through education.

Bob was always fascinated with flying and took a training test that was offered at Astoria High School, in 1943.  He showed aptitude and wanted to join the Naval Air Corps, but his father insisted on college.  So Bob enlisted on July 1, 1943 in the Navy College Training Program in Colorado to study engineering.   He later did take the step to become a pilot switching to the Navy V-5 Flight Training Program.  He progressed to NAS Oakland for boot camp, followed by San Luis Obispo for flight prep and later, Glenview, Illinois.  It was there, on his first solo flight, Friday the 13th of February, 1944, Bob took off in a bi-wing, open cockpit plane.  He went through his maneuvers and decided to finish with a loop.  As he approached the top of the loop, upside down, his seat came loose and he fell part way out of the cockpit.  Without capacity to reach the stick or the pedals, the plane was momentarily out of his control, and nearly without Bob!  As the plane slowly turned, he was finally able to pull himself back into the cockpit and regain control of the plane.  It was a very close call!

During subsequent years in the Naval Air Corps, Bob flew nearly every type of aircraft.  Today, he has models of most of them all in his home office.  He always wanted fighters, but during the World War II, was assigned PBY Amphibian Float Planes.  When the war ended, he was stationed at Cecil Field in Florida.  His unit and companion unit were responsible for forming the Blue Angels.

When Bob left the service, he returned to the Pacific Northwest, was married and raised sons, Don and David.  However, he remained in the Reserves and his total military flying career covered 33 years.  Unfortunately, Bob’s wife, Bonnie, passed away during this period and Bob, with the help of his parents, was left alone to raise his two young sons.   His career path took another direction when he met Oscar Kretschmar, the manager of Container Corporation in Tacoma.  He was instantly taken with Oscar, an orphan who grew up in Chicago and whose ambition eventually caught the attention of company ownership.  He worked his way up to a management position with the company.  Oscar saw something special in Bob and sent him to Los Angeles to train in one of the company’s mills.  Upon returning, he worked hard and later was made Superintendent of the Tacoma mill.  Oscar was smart and became wealthy in the stock market.  He shared his knowledge and his stock broker with Bob.   Bob was intrigued with investing and mirrored Oscar’s examples.  All of it paid off.

Container Corporation was headquartered in Chicago, so the Tacoma plant was a world away.  Bob and Oscar did very well, picking up old equipment very inexpensively, from all the other mills.  They built productivity from 25 to 100 tons a day over the years, all with second hand equipment.  Bob became the General Manager when Oscar retired in 1972.  Oscar and Bob were rewarded watching their retirement funds grow due to diligence and shrewd investing throughout their careers. 

Something else Oscar introduced Bob to was the Boys Club.  Oscar was a supporter of the work they did with local boys and encouraged Bob to get involved.  Following Oscar’s example, Bob joined the Board of the South End Club in the 1950’s, even serving as its President one year.  He loved the staff and mission of the organization and the philosophy of investing in youth.  Over the years, that commitment has also grown and resulted in rich return on investment!

Often, Bob was left to house-sit for Oscar and Evalyn Kretschmar’s summer home in Alderbrook when they travelled.  On one occasion, Bob was introduced to Lois, a widow with two daughters, Linda and Leslee, who were living in a small beach cabin on Hood Canal.  Both were smitten and it was not too long before they were married.  The tiny beach cabin became a summer retreat for all extended family members and is filled with adventures and happy memories.

But one more visit to the past…

Periodically, Bob’s commitment with the Naval Air Corps took him away from Tacoma.  While in Oakland with the Reserves, Bob flew an F9F Panther Jet with 6,000 pounds of fuel and 1,000 pounds of 20 mm ammo on a gunnery flight.  He was at 1,200 feet going 250 knots when the engine went quiet…just quit!    The plane was so heavy that it started dropping like a rock.  Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a runway and urged and willed the plane toward it.  He dropped the hook and it missed the first wire.  He continued and managed to snag the second landing wire, with no power and little control of the plane.  It shouldn’t have happened, but he arrived shaken, yet safely on the ground at 1:00 pm.  The date was Friday, the 13th of July, 1956.  Bob remembered that the paperwork was a nightmare and it was sometime before the cause, identified as equipment malfunction, was learned.  Another close call on another Friday the 13th!

Bob retired from the Navy Reserves in 1973.  He retired from the Container Corporation in 1987. 

Fueled by nine stock splits with Exxon Mobile, his growing stock portfolio allowed Bob and Lois to purchase a 35’ RV and they spent the next few years putting over 105,000 miles on it as they travelled the country.  Meanwhile, their stock investments continued to grow and fund their travels.  It also helped them form an annual family gathering.  In early years, the destination varied, but became a solid tradition when they landed at the Anderson Lodge in Cougar, Washington, near Mount St. Helens, for their Christmas weekend reunion every year.  The Lodge is comfortable and big enough to handle the 20-30 family members who attend.  It is a time to reflect and pass along family values and get to know the grandchildren.  Sharing investment success and creating a little sibling competition, with parental matching funds has also helped pass along the merits of saving, investments and philanthropy with family.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound has also grown and multiplied over the years.  While Bob passed away in 2015, his legacy remains with the Clubs as Lois stays invested here. She is able to enjoy their return on investment every year as she attends the Youth of the Year event with members of their family.  These are proud and earned accomplishments through many years of hard work and tenacious investing that has paid off, with maybe some incredible luck, especially on Friday the 13th.