Longtime IHSAA official Cornie Wassink remembered for love of track and field. He died of COVID-19.
A Cubs fan, the "flower lady," husbands, wives, and more are part of the more than 1,400 Iowans lost COVID-19 as of early October 2020. Des Moines Register
Northwestern College track and field coach Scott Bahrke learned quickly that longtime official Cornie Wassink was organized.
Soon after being hired in 2012, Scott was preparing for the annual Red Raider Open and went hunting for supplies in a cabinet. What he found was a treasure trove of clipboards, pencils and tape measures all stocked by — you guessed it — Cornie.
“At the time, I’m like, ‘Cornie, do we really need all this backup to the backup?’” Scott recalled.
Turns out they did. A meet would rarely go by where Scott didn't need an extra set of supplies to make sure the event went off without any hiccups. Cornie, a popular track and field official for decades, was the reason the Red Raiders were so, so prepared every year, he said.
“He was a professional in the way he liked things to be handled properly and well,” said Cornie’s wife, Deb Korver Wassink.
Cornie died on November 12, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19. He was 70.
Born on a farm north of Sioux Center, Cornie played football at Northwestern, where he was named the team’s offensive MVP and was an All-American on the 1972 NAIA national runner-up squad. The 16-game winning streak of those 1971 and 1972 teams still stands as the college’s longest running stretch, according to his obituary.
Cornie first got into track and field timing while still a student at Northwestern. He was taking an officiating class when he learned the school was looking for help working track meets. He jumped at the opportunity and quickly fell in love with the sport.
A master official for USA Track and Field, Cornie worked at the high school, college and professional levels.
“The thing that impressed me most was his professionalism in the whole sport,” said Bob Prince, co-director of the Sioux City Relays. “When he came, he just added a whole other level of class to our operation in terms of trying to do things right and by the book.”
Over the years, Cornie racked up an impressive number of Hall of Fame titles, including being inducted into the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame (1983), Iowa High School Athletic Association Officials Hall of Fame (2008) and the Iowa Track Officials Hall of Fame (2009).
The founder of the Iowa Association of Track Officials, Cornie officiated seven other sports, too. And in his 50 years on the sidelines, he was named Iowa State Official of the Year eight times.
Deb often traveled with her husband to events such as the Drake Relays and the Iowa High School State Track and Field meet, getting to witness first-hand just how much her husband enjoying being around the athletes. He was drawn to their camaraderie, she said, and enjoyed watching them grow as runners and friends in competition.
Officiating wasn't just a job for Cornie, Deb said by way of emphasis. It was a passion.
“I just knew how much he loved what he was doing and it was important for me to give him that opportunity to do this because I saw how well he did it,” Deb said. “That brought me a lot of joy seeing him have the satisfaction.”
Some race officials have told Deb they plan to carry on Cornie’s most favorite tradition: Giving each race winner the shell casing used in the starter’s pistol.
And his legacy will carry on in a number of ways at Northwestern, Scott said.
Not the least of which will be always remembering to have backups to the backups.
“It’s just not going to be the same,” Scott said.
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following are deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 400 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
David Backus, 74, Ventura. A master bonfire builder who always shared his ice cream.
Lois Gruis, 93, Sioux City. Taught more than 100 private lessons in piano, organ and vocal music each week.
Owen Henning, 90, Latimer. Founded a grain handling business while running his father's construction company.
Sarah Latimer, 98, Iowa City. Trained in a segregated Black unit at Fort Des Moines for the Women's Auxiliary Army Corp.
Maurice Maakestad, 95, Osage. A card shark who often won at 500 with wild bids.
Gary Marple, 83, Mount Pleasant. Chief inventor and co-founder of Lessac Technologies Inc., which developed text-to-speech software for expressing a wider vocal range of emotions.
Virginia Prince-Renner, 91, Whiting. Sang with the Women's Club Chorus and played the organ for Christy-Smith Funeral Home.
Robert Frank Taylor, 72, Coralville.
Ronald Versluis, 79, Cedar Falls. Worked at John Deere in Waterloo for 30 years.
Ruth Welscott, 73, Mason City. Traveled across the country in an RV for 19 years finding her family roots.