Madras law firm dissolves partnership
One of Madras' oldest businesses ceased operation May 31, when the law partners of Glenn, Reeder and Gassner went their separate ways.
The firm was founded in 1934 by Madras attorney Boyd Overhulse. The name of the business changed every time partners joined or left, but it is possible to follow its evolution through more than 70 years of operation. The latest and final combination consisted of David C. Glenn, Donald V. Reeder and Timothy R. Gassner.
The firm's dissolution was precipitated in large part by the Memorial Day 2019 fire that forced the partners to move from their building at 205 SE Fifth St. in downtown Madras and to make decisions about their future together, including whether to jointly invest in repairing the damaged building or purchasing a different building.
"It didn't make sense to go in as partners in a new building or a refurbishment of the existing building and go into debt to do it because Dave probably will retire within the next few years and Don probably won't be too far behind him," said Gassner, "whereas I'm going to be practicing for another 15 or more. And so it created something of a dilemma in how do we become joint owners in a property again and then divide up that ownership."
Madras Police Chief Tanner Stanfill said the investigation into the fire is still active; arson is suspected. The attorneys lost valuable law books in the fire but were able to salvage their computers and files. For the past year, they have been working in rented offices at 534 SW Fourth St. in Madras.
Reeder will continue his practice under the business name Donald V. Reeder, LLC, in Suite E of the Madras Professional Center at 35 SE C St. in Madras. Reeder said he'll be doing "what a general practitioner does in a small town," including estate planning, real estate law, water law, social security disability and more.
Gassner will continue as a general practitioner, too. He also works for the 22nd Circuit Defenders, an organization that contracts with the state of Oregon to provide court-appointed attorneys to defendants in need of public assistance.
Gassner has moved to an office in the Goodson building at 281 SW Third St. in Madras, operating as Timothy R. Gassner, P.C. Attorney at Law.
Glenn will join Gassner at his new location. He will not be a partner but will be "of counsel," meaning Gassner will be able to consult with him on cases as needed. Glenn will also be finishing up his outstanding cases in preparation for retirement.
76 Years of Community Involvement
Throughout its nearly 76-year history, the law firm's partners contributed significantly to the development of Jefferson County through their dedication to public service in myriad forms.
The law firm's founder, Boyd Overhulse, was one of the most prominent citizens in county history at one of the most difficult times in county history.
When Overhulse came to Madras in 1934, the nation was in the middle of the Great Depression and Jefferson County was in the midst of a prolonged drought. That year, farmers experienced a near total crop failure and ranchers had to choose between selling off their cattle to the federal government or watching them starve to death.
That was the environment in Jefferson County when Overhulse, only about a year after graduating from law school, opened his private practice and was elected to the first of four terms as district attorney.
According to Reeder, it is unusual but not unheard of for an attorney to be the DA and be in private practice at the same time.
After 12 years as DA, Overhulse declined to run for the office again so he could concentrate on his private practice. But that didn't last long.
The following year, 1949, Overhulse took on Sumner Rodriguez as a partner, and the year after that, he decided to run for office again, this time as a state representative.
Overhulse won the seat in 1950 and won re-election easily in 1952. In 1954 Overhulse defeated two challengers in the Democratic primary and won the Republican primary as a write-in candidate, with the result that he was unopposed in the general election.
In 1956, Overhulse left the House and instead ran for and won a seat in the Oregon Senate.
Overhulse was elected president of the Senate in his first term. To celebrate, more than 200 supporters attended a banquet at the Masonic lodge in Madras. Guests included future Gov. Tom McCall, who served as master of ceremonies. McCall read aloud congratulatory telegrams from Sen. Wayne Morse, Rep. Al Ullman, and Portland Mayor Terry Shrunk.
As Senate president, Overhulse filled in as acting governor a few times when Gov. Robert Holmes was out of state, and Overhulse has the distinction of having presided over the longest legislative session in state history.
Overhulse was reelected to another four-year term in the Senate, where he served on numerous committees before retiring from the Legislature at the end of 1964.
Overhulse practiced law in Madras with his partner Sumner C. Rodriguez for two more years before he died of a heart attack in 1966 at age 56.
Throughout his career in Madras, Overhulse was the Madras city attorney, a member of the Lions Club and the Odd Fellows Lodge, and was active in the Chamber of Commerce. He was also president of the Oregon State Bar.
Whereas Overhulse had come to Jefferson County at one of its lowest points, Rodriguez arrived in 1949 during one of its boom times. The Depression was over, World War II was over, and farmers finally had their crucial irrigation water.
Families had been steadily moving in from out of state to take up newly available farmland, and the county was beginning to thrive. The community was poised for a transformation, and Rodriguez, known to his friends as Rod, was the kind of person who could help make it happen.
"Rod worked with other people in the community to do good things, and those good things have grown into really wonderful things," said Reeder, who joined the firm in 1981. "Basically, about every good thing you can think of in Madras, the roots of that is Sumner Rodriguez."
Rodriguez was a prolific supporter of community projects in Jefferson County. He took up Overhulse's work as Madras city attorney, was a member of Madras Kiwanis, and served on numerous boards and commissions. He was instrumental in establishing the Bean Foundation, Mountain View Hospital and the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation.
In 1960, Rodriguez helped set up the Jefferson County Development Corp., which has fostered many local businesses, including Bright Wood, one of Central Oregon's largest employers.
One of Rodriguez's most memorable clients was the infamous Gertrude Nunez Jackson, who, together with her girlfriend, Jeannace Freeman, killed her two children by throwing them into the Crooked River Gorge.
Warren Albright, the district attorney who prosecuted the case, later became Rodriguez's partner.
It was in the 1960s that Rodriguez purchased the U.S. Bank building at the corner of Fifth and D streets in Madras. For years, the building was occupied by Jefferson County Title Co. and the accounting firm of Bob Rufener and Bruce Douglas, as well as the law offices.
Before that, the law firm was located in the same building as the Shangri-La Café and Bar at the corner of Sixth and D streets, on the upper floor, and then moved next door to the building in the middle of the block. That's according to Sharon Dodge, who worked for Overhulse and Rodriguez in the mid-1950s.
Dodge also pointed out that through all the name changes over the years, the sign outside the building simply read, "Law Office" or "Attorneys at Law since 1934."
By 1973 Albright had left the firm to work for the Oregon Civil Rights Division, and so Rodriguez hired a young attorney just out of law school named George Neilson. Neilson became a partner in 1974.
Neilson was attracted to the job partly because Madras was located halfway between his parents' home in John Day and his wife's parents' home in Woodburn, and partly because he wanted to live in a small town.
But Neilson also felt an affinity with Rodriguez, whose values reminded him of his own father's.
"They were both very active in community affairs and always approached it with the idea that the best interest of the community was very, very important and Rod shared with me that the best interests of our clients was always very, very important and it's that kind of commonality in values that brought us together."
Neilson was one of a generation of Madras leaders strongly influenced by Rodriguez's dedication to community service, who emulated him and still speak of him with affection and some reverence.
"The model he created stayed with me. The idea of serving the community and being part of the community," said Neilson, who has served on the board of the Bean Foundation since its inception in 1981.
Not long after Neilson joined the firm, his law school classmate Dave Glenn came for a visit with his wife and their baby. Glenn met Rodriguez, and by February 1975, Glenn had joined the law office too.
Like his law partners, Glenn is a general practitioner, but he is also one of the few lawyers qualified by the state as a court-appointed representative of defendants in murder trials, so he has represented clients all over Oregon. Because he hopes to retire in the next few years, he is avoiding taking on new clients.
"I've limited my practice to my current murder cases. I've got one in Marion County, one in Linn County and one in Malheur County and then I just picked up the one out in Culver," he said, noting that he took on the new case only because it is local.
One of Glenn's most notable cases while with Glenn, Sites and Reeder was defending Diane and Dennis Nason, a Sisters couple who had adopted 84 children. Three children died in their custody, two of dysentery and one of starvation. The jury trial, which went on for just over a year and was the longest and most expensive in Oregon history, garnered national attention.
The couple was acquitted in 1995 of abuse and manslaughter but were convicted of forgery and racketeering.
Another highlight of Glenn's career was receiving the Oregon State Bar's President's Public Service Award In 2017. Glenn was a longtime member of Kiwanis and has served as the attorney for the Jefferson County Library and the Art Adventure Gallery.
Sometime between 1975 and 1979, the firm added Doug Wilkinson and became Rodriguez, Neilson, Glenn and Wilkinson.
Neilson quit the firm when he was appointed by Gov. Vic Atiyeh as a district court judge in 1979. Gov. Neil Goldschmidt appointed him as circuit court judge in 1990, and Neilson served in that capacity until his retirement in 2010.
After Neilson left, Ed Sites and Don Reeder joined and became partners. At its largest, the firm was Rodriguez, Glenn, Wilkinson, Sites and Reeder.
As part of his general practice, Reeder is proud of his work representing the North Unit Irrigation District in negotiating with the Bureau of Reclamation to extend the deadline for repayment of the cost of safety improvements to the Wickiup Dam to make the payments less burdensome.
Reeder also represented local carrot growers in a lawsuit over a chemical that harmed the bees they needed to pollinate their crops. The case went to court and then reached a settlement.
Under Rodriguez's influence, Reeder became involved in several community organizations. He was the attorney for the Bean Foundation for many years, served on the board of Central Oregon Community College for 16 years, is involved with the Jefferson Scholarship Foundation and the Jefferson County Development Corp., and is a member of the Lions Club.
Rodriguez retired in 1985, and Wilkinson moved to Springfield in 1986, leaving Glenn, Sites and Reeder — a combination that remained the same for 20 years — much longer than any of the previous combinations of partners.
Gassner joined the firm in 2004 and became a partner in 2006. After Sites left in 2010, Wade Whiting and William Carl were each members of the partnership for a few years before moving on.
Continuing the tradition of public service, Gassner has served on the board of Kids Club for more than a decade.
The partners of Glenn, Reeder and Gassner are a little blue about the firm's demise, but realistic too.
"I'm sad that the firm is ending, but things change, and I've enjoyed being in Madras and being part of the community, and overall very happy with how the firm was so community-oriented. I'm looking forward to someday figuring out how to retire," said Glenn.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity and the experiences that I had. I'll always have some amount of nostalgia for the law office that has really been my career," Gassner said. "It's been 16 years. I'll always remember it as where I learned to be the lawyer that I am today, but there are very few things that last forever, and most of the things that last forever are the intangibles. The more tangible things like a business or a law office, most of them do come to an end, and you just have to hope that when it does happen, you can look back upon it fondly and with good memories. And for the most part, with the exception of the fire, I can look back on it fondly."
And Reeder summed it up simply: "I'm nostalgic."
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