Jul. 2—After 50 years of litigating in courtrooms across the state and winning notable trials, Jack Theeler's legacy of success as a distinguished lawyer was celebrated on Thursday night.
Although Thursday's open house was a celebration of Theeler's five decades of service as a defense attorney in Mitchell, he said the night belonged to his wife just as much as it did himself. After all, Theeler attributes his success to his wife, Nancy Theeler, who he said "has been there with him and the family every step of the way."
"I've been in just about every courtroom in the state, which means you're not able to attend to everything at the house... My wife, Nancy, has always been there every step of the way," an emotional Theeler said of his wife. "So this is really an award for both of us, because I wouldn't have been able to do what I have done without you (Nancy). We feel blessed by this community, the firm and all the clients. We thank you all from the bottom of our heart."
From defending a Mitchell man who sued Coca-Cola for finding a mouse in a Coke can to arguing notable cases before the South Dakota Supreme Court, including the high profile case between Klock Werks Kustom Cycles and NASCAR driver Clint Boyer in which Theeler represented the Mitchell motorcycle business and its lawsuit against Boyer, Theeler has built a name for himself as one of the state's most respected lawyers through the years.
"Along the way, we've realized how blessed we were to select Mitchell, South Dakota, and the Morgan and Fuller law firm," he said. "I can't count the number of lawyers who have passed through our firm and went on to the Supreme Court, and went on to become circuit judges and lawyers in other firms."
When Theeler first joined Mitchell-based Morgan Fuller law firm in 1971, which is now MorganTheeler, LLC, there were just three attorneys. Now, the law firm is backed by 14 attorneys who specialize in practicing a wide variety of law, thanks to Theeler's leadership and drive to succeed.
"One of the things I kept repeating was if we keep hiring people who are smarter than we are and have the talent to do what's necessary to be a lawyer, we will thrive and survive," Theeler said.
While Theeler has built a legacy of success as an accomplished lawyer, it's what he's done outside of the courtroom that leaves his friends in awe.
For the past 35 years, Don Petersen has practiced law with Theeler at the Mitchell firm. As Petersen puts it, "there isn't enough paper" to write down the list of community organizations and charitable groups that Theeler has been heavily involved in through the years.
"Jack (Theeler) has been invested in so many community organizations, and it's truly remarkable to see his love for the community. When I was at a recent conference, everyone of those lawyers came up to me to personally ask me to congratulate Jack (Theeler) on his 50 years," Petersen said, pointing to it as an example of the impact Theeler has had on so many people. "I've had the privilege of practicing with Jack (Theeler) for 35 of his 50 years. As a young lawyer, I tried to watch him and pick up on what made him such a great lawyer."
In recognition of his community-minded spirit and dedication to volunteering on numerous organizations and local boards, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson gave Theeler a civic honor on Thursday at the Lakehouse, proclaiming it as "Jack Theeler Day" in the city of Mitchell.
Among the boards and groups Theeler served on over the years include the Dakota Wesleyan University Board of Trustees, Oscar Howe Art Center Board and Mitchell Area Ducks Unlimited Committee.
"Mr. Theeler has made an impact on the Mitchell community for his volunteer service on numerous local charitable boards," Everson said during his reading of the proclamation for Jack Theeler Day.
Before graduating from law school at the University of South Dakota in the early 1970s, Theeler was known across the state for his athletic prowess on the basketball court. Outside of the classroom, Theeler became a legendary college basketball player for the USD Coyotes. The Sisseton native notched 1,573 points during his career, averaging 21.5 points per game and racked up three consecutive all-North Central Conference honors. His accomplishments on the basketball court earned himself a spot in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
Theeler joined Mitchell-based Morgan Fuller law firm in 1971 and began making a name for himself as a scrappy attorney who could cross examine witnesses "right where he needed them to go."
"I got a job offer to come to Mitchell, South Dakota, after the Vietnam War was wrapping up. My wife was a speech therapist at the time, and she got a job offer as well. So we got two job offers, and it was like the Red Sea parted," Theeler said.
While wins and losses in the courtroom are part of measuring the success of a lawyer, it's not what motivates Theeler to continue practicing law.
For Theeler, one of the most rewarding elements that comes with being a lawyer is "being able to help people," which he said has always inspired him as an attorney.
"One of the best things about the practice of law is that you get to meet a lot of people, but most importantly you get to help a lot of people," he said. "I always tell young lawyers, that 'If you enjoy assisting people and helping them with their issues or problems and the emotion that comes with it,' then you will enjoy this profession."
As he reflected back on his illustrious legal career, Theeler is eager to continue building his legacy at MorganTheeler. While the law firm has been in business for over a century, he's confident that his team of lawyers will carry on MorganTheeler's legacy of success to reach the 200 year mark. With no plans of retiring anytime too soon, Theeler is proud to be an instrumental part of the law firm's growth.
"I guess we're 128 years old, and I don't think I'm going to be around for the 200 mark," Theeler said, igniting laughs from the crowd who gathered to celebrate his 50 years of service. "But I think the firm will be."