Jim Thomas came back to his hometown after graduating from the University of Iowa Law School in 1967.
It’s a decision he’s never regretted.
“There’s just nothing as rewarding as the practice I’ve had,” Thomas said while discussing his recent retirement. “I’ve got classmates all over the world that graduated from Iowa in 1967 and I wouldn’t trade places with any of them. The practice itself is an incredible privilege and one that I’ve been blessed with, especially in a small town.”
Thomas, 66, retired at the end of December after practicing law in Glenwood for more than four decades.
A 1960 Glenwood High School graduate, Thomas attended Morningside College on a track scholarship before earning his law degree at Iowa. He returned to Glenwood with his wife, Marilyn, in 1967, where he joined his father, Eliot, at a law firm that was established in the 1800s.
“My father joined the firm after serving in the war (World War II),” Thomas said. “My father practiced with Whitney Gilliland, who was appointed by General (Dwight) Eisenhower as chair of the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington D.C. It was a very significant position, almost a cabinet appointment. Whitney told me our practice was originally started after the Civil War by a person who went on to become governor of one of the western states.”
Thomas spent four years as Mills County Attorney early in his career, but devoted his full attention to his own practice when his father retired in 1971 and Glen McGee, a partner in the firm, was appointed to the District Court bench.
During his career, Thomas handled cases that dealt with a variety of legal issues, but his primary focus was in the area of estate planning. Throughout his career, Thomas said, his greatest satisfaction as an attorney came from assisting the clients he served.
“The rewards are when you work with somebody and help them out,” Thomas said. “They come in here and they’re upset and they’re afraid. They don’t know how to handle a certain issue and when you can help them, it’s very rewarding.”
Through his work in estate planning, Thomas has had a hand in the establishment of several trust funds that have greatly benefited the Glenwood community over the years. His work with Earl and Harriett Tubbs-Schoening helped pave the way for the construction of an all-weather track at Glenwood Community High School and financial bequests to several Mills County churches. In the 1980s, Thomas helped develop the foundation for the Raymond Thomas (no relation) Trust, now utilized for improvements at Glenwood Lake Park.
“He (Raymond Thomas) was from Mills County, but was living in Red Oak. We were both in the back row at an auction one day and he borrowed a cigarette from me. That’s how we met,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I had an office in Emerson at the time and we became friends.
“Over the period of years, I’d show him the park and show him Glenwood, and it was his decision to set up the trust for the park. I’m so glad that our city system had that park looking so nice, because it only took a few visits for him to say, ‘This is where I want to put my money.’”
In the mid 1990s, Thomas merged his practice with Council Bluffs-based Peters Law Firm.
“One of the wisest decisions I made was the merging with Peters Law Firm,” Thomas said. “The era of a single-practitioner is probably over. It’s extremely challenging to keep up on every area of the law. It’s been wonderful, what they’ve brought to the table, particularly in the area of management. It’s allowed me to focus on my clients.”
Thomas also offered praise for his administrative staff and his colleagues.
“The personnel in a law firm are your most important asset and the people that have worked with me certainly have been an asset for our office,” he said. “I also want to say that the caliber of attorneys in southwest Iowa is absolutely superior. The bench has a high retention rate for all the judges. It’s just been an intense pleasure to practice with these attorneys.”
Thomas expects to spend his retirement doing the things he enjoys – photography, backpacking and cooking. An avid hiker, Thomas had made multiple trips to Europe to walk the English countryside.
“There’s so much I haven’t seen in America,” he said. “I won’t have a problem finding ways to spend my time.”