OK, this has been quite the frustrating educational experience for me - and it is time to finish with this seemingly unsolvable problem.
I transferred the ~500MB of needed data to an 8GB stick that has no access problems, and then...
Used the Disk utility to mess with the errant 32GB stick.
Deleted & re-created it (as user) with FAT32 & no matter what it still belonged to root...period.
Did the same thing with primary partition & NTFS as well - BUT:
When I created an extended space & an NTFS partition inside that - I was able to change all the permissions without hesitation.
Ejected, gave it a minute & re-mounted - all good.
No idea what this may be caused by - but it IS a tiresome & annoying problem.
For the user to NOT have control over their own media - to be denied permission to make changes to it - this is lots more serious than some small thing which one must adjust to.
Also, there should be able to be a sort of 'everyone' group that USB media can be assigned to by default if desired that allows 100% access to whomever has the stick in their hand & wants to use it.
I know some folks have extreme security paranoia - but for me, and others whom I help out, we do not fear having invaders show up just to mess with the stuff on our PCs & USB media - and if some villain IS going to do that, then they are likely armed & will overpower us anyhow, so what is the use of making this into a nuisance ??
I really don't want to have to keep an actual XP box around just to have full access to my own USB sticks !!
Thanks for your time, energy and attention here.