Like great-grandfather, like great-grandson
by Janelle Von Pinnon
Gregory Walz of Cold Spring is the newest attorney at the Willenbring, Dahl, Wocken and Zimmermann law firm in Cold Spring.
But he isn’t the only lawyer in his family. His great-grandfather, John Michael Walz, a native of Retzstadt, Germany, also practiced law.
Having attended school for nearly 12 years, John Walz was most likely better educated than most people in the mid-1800s. But little is known about the legalities as to how a person became a lawyer in the 1800s.
“He was educated in the old country and they didn’t have extra schooling if you wanted to become a lawyer,” said Wendelin Walz, John’s grandson and Gregory’s father.
Yet John pursued a career in addition to his family’s tradition of farming.
After living in Germany for 31 years, John moved his family to America in 1850 upon receiving letters from Father Francis Pierz urging settlers to come to Clinton, Minn., now St. Joseph.
Pierz wrote, “More than half the open meadows in Minnesota have an excellent black, loamy soil, with a splendid mixture of sand and clay and a rich topsoil formed by the plant decay of thousands of year, so that it would be hard to find anywhere in the world a soil better suited to yield a rich return for the farmers’ toil.”
Another time he wrote: “Hasten then, my dear German people, those of you who have in mind to change your abode and settle in Minnesota. Do not delay to join the stream of immigration, for the sooner you come the better will be your opportunity to choose a good place to settle.”
During the later months of 1861, John and his family arrived and settled in the town of St. Joseph. They built their own farm which was located in St. Joseph where the St. Benedict Convent barn is currently located.
John spent the remaining 47 years of his life in St. Joseph. He was a lawyer and a farmer for many years and later became a judge for the town.
On Jan. 29, 1890, John helped form the first city council of St. Joseph. He became the justice of the peace and remained on the council until his death in 1908.
John was married three times having outlived two of his wives. He fathered 15 children between the three marriages.
Gregory Walz followed in his great-grandfather’s law footsteps because, he said, he was interested in helping other people and in seeing that justice is done.
Greg was born and raised in St. Joseph. He graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School in 1976 and earned his bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in 1980. He then received his master’s from St. Cloud State University and went on to obtain his law degree in 1987 from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.
After a year of practicing law in Paynesville, Minn., Greg and his wife, Sandra Theis Walz, who is originally from Richmond, returned to their native area so Greg could continue his career nearer to home.
“In the (Twin) Cities, people walk around like robots,” Greg said. “When you walk down the street here, even after being away for two years, people recognize you and say hello.
“My favorite part of the job is meeting clients – being with people,” he continued. “And some negotiation acts are exciting. There’s a certain amount of freedom in being an attorney. It’s not a normal 9-to-5 job, yet there is some weekend work. And to be an effective attorney, you have to keep updated, continuously educating yourself by being aware of new statutes and case law.”
Greg said the law profession is a bit over-dramatized on TV shows, such as “L.A. Law. “It’s a show that brings up issues,” he said, “but it has more drama than realism to catch appeal. Their expectations of what the legal system is all about, positive or negative, is somewhat unrealistic. Generally less than five percent of all cases go to trial, because basically, in most cases, it is advantageous financially for the client to settle out of court.”
Greg’s associates include Kirby Dahl, Mark McKeon, Paul Wocken, Dan Zimmermann, all active attorneys, and Joseph Willenbring, of counsel.
“It is important to like people you work with,” he said. “At this firm (Willenbring), I like the people and it’s a quality firm. My long-range goal is, and has been for a long time, to set up an office in St. Joseph.”