Soon after Cathy Glesmann became Papillion's first female police officer in 1982, she was tested when she responded to a tense bar fight.
Everyone in the bar seemed to be assessing this 6-foot-tall blonde who walked in with a badge that said “patrol man.” One guy in the back grabbed a pool cue.
Glesmann addressed the most aggressive of the patrons.
“Your mother always told you never hit a girl, right?” she asked.
“I'm a girl. Fight's over.”
And just like that, it was.
That kind of deft touch with people turned Glesmann, now 55, into a community fixture in Papillion over the past three decades.
Last month, the city's first female officer became Papillion's first officer to stay with the force until retirement.
Glesmann moved into police work after her first dream of being a park ranger didn't pan out. She applied to several agencies and ended up at Papillion.
At the time, she said, she didn't really think about being the first woman. The job just seemed like a good fit.
Glesmann joined eight men to make up the entire Papillion police force at the time. Now there are 37 officers.
Papillion wasn't on the leading edge in hiring women officers — three women broke the gender barrier in the Omaha Police Department, for example, back in 1961.
Current Papillion Sgt. Steve Young, who started at the same time as Glesmann, said she always had a knack for policing. That made it easy for male officers to accept her.
|Female officers in a sampling of local law enforcement agencies|
|Omaha Police Department|
|18% of 779 total sworn officers|
|Sarpy County Sheriff's Office|
|22% of 129 officers|
|Bellevue Police Department|
|6% of 95 officers|
|Papillion Police Department|
|11% of 37 officers|
|La Vista Police Department|
|6% of 33 officers|
|Ralston Police Department|
|8% of 13 officers|
Not everyone was as supportive. Someone from another agency once told her the only reasons women became cops were to have sex or find a husband.
She was pregnant and married at the time.
In Papillion, though, her fellow officers quickly found that it was useful to have a woman like Glesmann on the force. And her success helped the women who followed in the Papillion department.
“Whether Cathy made it or not was going to have a big impact,” Young said.
Children and animals gravitated toward her in tough situations. She seemed to know everything and everyone in Papillion, and she used that to her advantage.
Glesmann could be tough, once chasing a bad guy over a balcony when she was five months pregnant. But she also was good at calming people down before things became violent.
Glesmann just seems to have a sixth sense about people, her colleagues said.
“I wish I knew half as much as she did about being a police officer,” said Detective Kathy Mattern.
When Mattern arrived 11 years ago, the department had grown, as had the number of women. By then, Glesmann had been promoted to corporal and was training new officers, formally and informally.
“She didn't officially train me,” Mattern said. “But I tell you, I've received more unofficial training through Cathy than any other officer on this department.”
Glesmann's career included a lot of firsts. She was Papillion's first DARE officer and its first drug recognition expert.
She was the city's first pregnant cop — and its second.
But her legacy in Papillion is more than all her firsts.
Mark Meisinger was in high school in the 1990s when Glesmann came to arrest him for a warrant. He was walking toward the door, ready to bolt, when he heard his former DARE officer yell, “Markie!”
“If it was anybody else, I would have been gone,” Meisinger said.
Though Glesmann arrested him that day, she knew he wasn't a bad kid, and she looked out for Meisinger when she saw him around town. She even showed up to the hospital after he got in a car accident.
She always pushed him to pull himself together, as Meisinger recalls. He eventually did, and now he's a defense attorney in Dallas.
“She's got probably the best character of any cop I've ever met,” Meisinger said.
Now Glesmann is blazing another trail: a path to retirement.
While on the job last November, she was in a car accident that left her with a limited range of motion in her shoulders.
“I really wasn't ready to retire, but because of injuries from my car crash, it was time to hang it up,” she said.
City officials say she's the first officer ever to retire from the 60-year-old department. Officers in the past have traditionally used the Papillion job as a stepping stone to move on to larger police departments or private-sector jobs with better benefits.
At a ceremony at a recent City Council meeting, Mayor David Black and Police Chief Leonard Houloose honored Glesmann for her service.
Houloose presented her an honorary badge. No longer a “patrol man,” she now bears the title of “retired corporal.”
World-Herald staff writer Erin Duffy contributed to this report.