Attorney John J. Willett retires after 57 years of practicing law

Attorney John Willet: Attorney John Willet, after 57 years of practicing law, has decided to retire. Contributed Photo.

A driving desire to serve his clients and a love of working with people has kept John J. Willett practicing law for 57 years. His ambition was to serve his clients for at least as long as his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather did. However, illness is causing him to retire at this time.

Reflecting, John said there was never any doubt about him becoming an attorney.

“It was always my ambition to be a lawyer like my forefathers,” John said.

He noted that being a fourth-generation family attorney gave him additional aspiration to succeed.

John graduated from Tama High School in 1960. Thereafter, he attended the University of Iowa, obtaining an undergraduate degree in political science, and graduated from the College of Law in Iowa City in June 1966. John came back to Tama to practice law with his father, Walter J. Willett, and grandfather, James J. Willett, in a firm started by his great-grandfather, James W. Willett.

His great-grandfather, James W. Willett, founder of the Willett law practice in Tama, practiced law until he was 94. His grandfather, James J. Willett, was 87 before retiring. Together, they built a solid law practice which has been a main fixture on 3rd St. in Tama. John’s father, Walter Willett, joined the family law firm in 1934 and worked well into the 1990s.

James W. Willett, who served as District Judge for Tama, Marshall, and Benton counties, tried a case before the Iowa Supreme Court when he was 92. He was the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. James H. Willett was the attorney for the Grand Army of the Republic.

The Willett law office was first above the old First National Bank in downtown Tama. It was moved to the McCall building (over the former Mosebach, Griffith Co.) and then to the present location at 215 W. Third St. in 1932. The first building burned, but in February 1952, it was rebuilt at the same location.

The Dysart office was opened in December of 1970 after a number of Dysart people requested them to open an office there.

Early on in his practice, lawyers had to take on court appointments. Years ago, John was defending a man charged with second offense OWI with the late Judge Hyland of Tama on the bench. The defendant was having an affair with a married woman, and on Thursday nights, she had a meeting in Vinton.

One night, they arranged to see each other after the meeting. He waited on a country road for her. While he waited, he drank until he fell asleep. The Benton County Sheriff found him in the car but couldn’t wake him up, and the car was locked. The jury found him not guilty.

John served as a part-time Tama County Magistrate from June 1985 and retired in August 2005. He enjoyed serving with John Felts and Ann Kuhter. He has many stories from serving as magistrate — some quite humorous.

One day while hearing a small claims case involving a male defendant, an elderly lady, who was the plaintiff, was sitting in the back row of the courtroom. While the defendant was testifying, the lady jumped up from her seat and ran forward with the intention of hitting the defendant. John had to reprimand her to sit down or be charged with contempt of court.

Another unusual story involved a Sunday morning of holding court with six defendants who were being charged with OWI, possession of drug paraphernalia and drugs, etc. When each one came up to sign the release papers, John noticed all were left-handed, as was John.

John enjoyed working with his clients and trying to solve their problems. The part he enjoyed most was handling estates and estate planning.

John is married to the former Sally Kriegel. They have a son David Willet from Powell, OH, and a deceased daughter, Ann.

An open house honoring John will be held on Sunday, Feb. 5, from 2 – 4 p.m. at the Tama-Toledo Country Club, Tama. All are welcome.