As simple as it may seem, Jim Van Voorhees likes helping people.
He enjoys solving problems.
"People usually have problems of some sort, and I try to solve them for them. That's what I'm about," the 74-year-old Prineville lawyer says.
And he's been helping the locals for nearly 50 years.
On March 22, the Oregon State Bar will honor Van Voorhees and 74 other lawyers during a Class of 1969 50-Year Member Recognition Luncheon at the Tualatin Country Club in Tualatin.
Van Voorhees plans to attend the event, where he will receive a plaque commemorating his half-a-century membership. It will most likely join the numerous other awards and plaques that decorate the crisp, white walls of his Claypool Street office.
Just exactly how Van Voorhees became a Prineville lawyer is a long chain of events.
Van Voorhees was born and raised in West Caldwell, New Jersey. He went to Colgate University, a private liberal arts college in Hamilton, New York, in the 1960s and wanted to be a "chemistry person."
"But, it didn't work out because the work and I didn't agree," he admitted.
He ended up majoring in psychology and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Colgate University, but he decided against going for a graduate degree in psychology.
"It occurred to me that I could take the law boards and go to law school. My dad had been peripherally involved in the law but not as a lawyer. We argued a little bit of law at the table, and my mother would get up and leave after a while," Van Voorhees chuckles.
Wanting to expand his horizons, Van Voorhees landed across the country at Willamette University in Salem, where he graduated with his Juris Doctor Degree in 1969.
During his third year of law school, he began working for a lawyer in Salem. That lawyer had an army buddy who practiced law in Bend. Van Voorhees ended up at a Central Oregon Bar members get-together, where he met Rodney Glanz. Glanz was a partner with Jim Bodie and Jim Minturn at a firm in Prineville.
"He mentioned to me that Anne MacDonald, who had worked for them, was no longer working for them, and they needed somebody, and would I like to come out and interview," Van Voorhees recalls. "It was a little awkward because they were on the other side of the lawsuit that I was investigating."
Nevertheless, the law student went to lunch with the three Prineville lawyers.
"I never got to use my resume. We talked for about an hour and a half," Van Voorhees recalls. "They said, 'Fine. You pass the bar exam, you've got a job here.'"
He passed the Oregon State Bar exam that summer and took his first law job with Bodie, Minturn and Glanz at their office on the corner of North Main and Northwest Second streets in Prineville.
"They told me what to do. We did about everything that came through the door," Van Voorhees recalls of those early days.
The firm did bankruptcies, real estate, they represented several mills, and they were often court-appointed lawyers and took on criminal cases.
"The judge would call you," Van Voorhees says. "He'd say, 'You've got to go down and represent this guy.' So, I'd go down. That's how it worked, and we didn't charge for those criminal cases that we were appointed to. We just felt like it was part of practicing law, kind of a service to the community – somebody had to do it. There was no money to pay us with anyway."
Bodie particularly liked criminal law.
"Bodie was kind of THE lawyer in town, but Minturn was a really good lawyer, and actually in some respects, a better lawyer. Bodie was a lot of action and talk, and Minturn did the work. So that worked," Van Voorhees says.
Glanz was killed in a car accident in 1970, and eventually, Van Voorhees took his place as a partner in the firm.
In 1978, while on a hike in the desert with the Desert Trail Association, Van Voorhees met Kate, who was teaching at a one-room school in Riley at the time.
"We both spoke 'East,'" he said, noting that she was also raised on the East Coast. They married in 1979, settled in Prineville, and eventually had two sons, Steven and Andrew.
Around 1980, his law firm moved their office to the Northwest Claypool and Northwest Third streets location.
Law firm partners came and went over the years, including Jim Larson, Steve Dixon and Ellen Krider. At one point, he moved back to his original law office and later returned to his current location.
Korin Price has been Van Voorhees' legal assistant for 11 years, Kate helps out at the office part time, and lawyer Griffin Deitz is just finishing up his first year at the Van Voorhees Law Offices.
These days, Van Voorhees shies away from family law, bankruptcies, litigation and criminal law, but he still does a lot of real estate, estate planning and corporate business legal work.
He teaches estate planning classes for Central Oregon Community College and has coached Mock Trials competitions for local high school students.
He had a role in preserving and reopening the Pine Theater, and he's been involved with multiple organizations in his 50 years here, often taking leadership positions. He's served with the Masonic Lodge, Elks, Lions, Kids Club, Rotary, Boy Scouts, Regional Arts Council of Central Oregon, and the Prineville Presbyterian Church.
Van Voorhees has also offered his services without charge to several organizations.
"I was always taught from the time I was a kid, you put back into the community," he says.
Larson, who was Van Voorhees' partner for many years, said Van Voorhees was a good attorney for the folks of Prineville.
"He was involved in a lot of volunteer activities," Larson said.
For fun, Van Voorhees belongs to the Ochoco Valley Model Railroad Club and enjoys visiting with people who come to see the display during the county fair.
Isn't a 50-year career long enough? Shouldn't he be retired by now?
Not for Van Voorhees. He's not planning to quit any time soon.
"If I retired, in three or four years, I'd get everything around the house done and be really bored," he points out. "I like practicing law — I really do. To me, it's part of my nature. I like to help out in the community and help people, and practicing law is helping people. Some people on the other side of me may not feel that way, but I'm helping the people that are on my side."