Omaha Law League Celebrates 50th Anniversary


Tours of the Douglas County courthouse have been a staple for the volunteers of the Omaha Law League since 1978. The tours used to run on Law Day, but moved to the fall semester this year. (OLL archive photo)

Nearly 2,500 fourth graders tour the Douglas County Courthouse and City-County Building each year on tours guided by OLL volunteers. (Photo courtesy of OLL)
By 
Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record

Fifty years ago, wives of local lawyers and judges decided to band together for camaraderie and support. They created the Omaha Lawyers’ Wives organization and elected Patty Buckley as their first president.

They submitted their original article of incorporation as a non­profit on Feb. 20, 1969. Seven years later, almost to the day, they changed the group’s name to the Omaha Law League Foundation Inc. in order to better reflect their membership, which included judges, lawyers and others inter­ested in their mission

“They wanted a more modern name, encompassing the legal profession and all those interested in the law,” said longtime mem­ber Jean Kelly, who is married to Chris Kelly, a Douglas County Juvenile Court judge.

Over the years, the organization has sponsored many social activi­ties, including a field day similar to the annual event held by the Omaha Bar Association. Members play golf, tennis and even compete at skeet shooting. Currently, OLL offers tennis, bridge, book club and popular gourmet tastings.

Jean Kelly served as president during the organization’s 45th year in 2014-15. She said the time felt right to commemorate a mile­stone, so the organization threw a celebration and compiled a trea­sure trove of memorabilia, which was put on display at Happy Hollow Country Club on Nov. 22, 2014. The organization welcomed many past presidents and mem­bers back for the occasion.

In the early years, the Omaha Lawyers’ Wives assisted the Omaha Bar Association in scheduling speeches by attor­neys in more than 80 elementary schools, a Law Day activity that is now known as Lawyers in the Classroom.

Then they launched their now-signature Law Day Courthouse Tours in 1978 under the leader­ship of Law Day Chair Marquetta Kinnamon. Students from area elementary schools, both public and private, toured the Douglas County Courthouse and visited courtrooms, led by the wives of the judges. 

Initially, one class from five area school districts were rep­resented – a total of about 225 students. Little did the members of OLL dream that their project would grow to serve more than 50,000 students in the metro area.

More than four decades later, nearly 2,500 fourth graders tour the Douglas County City-County Building and the Douglas County Courthouse each year. The tours were conducted in the fall and spring until this year, when OLL decided to move them all to the fall semester. Even though they no longer happen near Law Day, they still embody the mission of the annual May 1 celebration.

“Douglas County judges, at­torneys, law students and OLL members volunteer their time to serve as speakers and tour guides for metro area students,” said Douglas County Court Judge Marcela Keim, an active member of OLL. “Our goal is to provide each student with an enriching experience mixing history, archi­tecture, the local legal system, art and government.”

Twenty years into their exis­tence, OLL received the American Bar Association’s Public Service Award on Law Day 1989. The ci­tation said: “For notable achieve­ment in sponsoring Law Day USA programs and events. This award recognized excellence of both ef­fort and result.” The Nebraska State Bar Association also pre­sented OLL with its Special Merit Award in 2000.

Mary Pat Paul, a longtime ac­tive member, recalled the year she was president and the annual fashion show luncheon was nearly snowed out due to a power outage at Happy Hollow Country Club. She said she has “such fun and wonderful memories” from OLL.

Current President Jessica P. Douglas, a lawyer and a longtime board member, said she enjoys the enthusiasm that students show during courthouse tours.

“OLL also has a strong membership that consistently engages in a variety of activities and it is a pleasure to spend time with peers and col­leagues in a purely so­cial setting,” she said. “I have made several life­long friends.”

Other current OLL board members are past President Anna Scherr Nubel, Secretary Danielle Forsgren, Treasurer Renee Mathias and President-elect Susanne Dempsey Cook.

To fund the annual tours, OLL has con­ducted many fundraisers over the years. 

Dede Johnson, an OLL past president, re­called one particularly successful fundraising effort – the publish­ing of a cookbook. The collection has had three editions: The Gavelling Gourmet in the 1970s, The New Gavelling Gourmet in 1996 and Courtroom Cuisine in 2006. The books fea­tured recipes of mem­bers as well as those of Omaha’s favorite restau­rants such as The French Cafe, Vivace, V Mertz and M’s Pub.

Johnson also remem­bered their Barrister Ball – not the current version conducted by the Nebraska State Bar Foundation – whose committee of many women hosted gourmet meals in their homes.

“Groups of 10 to 30 paid to dine on beef tenderloin, salad with homemade dressing and rice pilaf,” she said, not­ing she still uses Patty Buckley’s beef tender­loin recipe. “Dancing and desert followed at the Omaha Country Club.”

The OLL also hosted fashion shows for many years. In 2011, the shows became an elaborate extravaganza under the direction of lawyer and OLL member John Carroll. After several successful years, OLL switched the event to a Casino Night, which is now in its fourth year.

The money collect­ed by the event pays for school bus trans­portation for the field trips as well scholar­ships to the Creighton University School of Law and the University of Nebraska College of Law. OLL also con­tributes to other legal programs – such as the Creighton Legal Clinic and the Juvenile Diversion Program – and works with Creighton students to provide networking and mentoring oppor­tunities in the Omaha metro area.

Terri Laughlin, longtime volunteer chair with OLL, has coordinated dozens of tour guides. Tour guides learn the con­tents of a thick packet of materials detailing the history and func­tion of the many of­fices and in both build­ings. 

A favorite of stu­dents is seeing the bul­let holes in the marble after the mob took over the courthouse in 1919 and attempted to kill the mayor. More than a dozen judges from the district, county and juvenile courts also meet with students at points along the tour or in their courtrooms.

“The meeting with the judge emphasizes the importance of taking the right ac­tion by listening to your conscience when you are faced with a choice between right and wrong,” Laughlin said. “Our goal is to introduce the students to the court system.”

For more infor­mation on how to join or sup­port OLL, visit facebook.com/omahalawleague.

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