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TCL > July 2002 Issue > William H. Allen

July 2002       Vol. 31, No. 7       Page  31
Six of the Greatest

William H. Allen
by Jack D. Vahrenwald, Donald E. Johnson, Jr







William H. Allen
by Jack D. Vahrenwald and Donald E. Johnson, Jr.

Jack D. Vahrenwald and Donald E. Johnson, Jr. were partners of William H. Allen in the firm of Allen, Vahrenwald & Johnson, LLC in Fort Collins. Vahrenwald was hired by the firm in 1971; Johnson, in 1980.

Integrity, impeccable judgment, and common sense were just some of the many attributes of Bill Allen. He vigorously represented his clients. However, if he felt his client was wrong, he would work hard to resolve the matter equitably.

A good example of this involved a farmer-client of Bill’s who diverted an irrigation ditch that crossed his property so that he would have more farmable land. During a heavy rain, the ditch overflowed, causing damage to surrounding areas. The attorney for the ditch company wrote to the farmer, demanding that the farmer repair the damage caused by the flooding. The farmer contacted Bill, and Bill went to inspect the property. During the inspection, Bill recognized that the relocation of the ditch caused it to flood. He turned to the client and told him that he should pay for the damage incurred, which immediately resolved the matter.

Early Years

William H. Allen was born in Spokane, Washington, on January 3, 1917. When he was a young child, his father was hired as the football and basketball coach at what was then Minot State Teachers College in Minot, North Dakota. Bill lived in Minot during the rest of his childhood years. As a youth, he caddied and picked up range balls at the local golf course to earn money. He became enamored with golf, a passion that continued throughout the rest of his life.

Bill graduated from high school and enrolled at Minot State where he played football and basketball for the school and was active in the drama club. In 1938, he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in social sciences. Shortly thereafter, he was hired as a high school mathematics teacher in Crosby, North Dakota. While teaching in Crosby, he met his wife-to-be, Marjorie, who also was a teacher. At that time, women teachers were not allowed to be married, but in 1940, Bill and Marjorie decided to elope to Canada. They kept their marriage a secret, enabling Marjorie to continue to teach for the remainder of the school year.

World War II

In 1942, Bill was hired by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and worked in Bemidji, Minnesota, and New Orleans, Louisiana. He worked for the INS for approximately one year and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Selected for officer candidate school, Bill attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for his training. After he received his commission, he was assigned to the destroyer, the U.S.S. Blue, stationed in the Pacific theater. He continued to serve on the Blue for the remainder of the war.

Bill often talked about the "Royal Order of the Deep," which was the severe hazing ceremony that was inflicted on those mariners who were crossing the equator for the first time. These mariners were always found guilty of trumped-up murder charges, and the punishment included crawling through garbage, among other indignities. Bill had fond memories of his years in the Navy and of the men with whom he served. However, his family considered his choice of the Navy curious because he suffered from motion sickness and was frequently ill aboard ship.

Law School Years

While he was in the Navy, Bill decided he wanted to practice law as a career. When he was discharged from the service in September 1945, he and Marjorie agreed that he should apply to the University of Colorado School of Law. Marjorie wanted to live in a warmer climate than North Dakota and Bill liked the idea of being in Colorado because he heard that a person could play golf year-round.

Bill was accepted at CU and enrolled for the spring 1946 quarter. Like many returning veterans, Bill attended both the regular school sessions and various summer sessions, graduating with honors in June 1948. As a law student, he actively participated in numerous school activities, including serving as president of the Student Bar Association, president of his law school class, and editor of the Rocky Mountain Law Review (later, the Colorado Law Review). While in law school, Bill also taught an undergraduate mathematics class at the University and even helped build the patio at the University Memorial Center on campus.

Bill prided himself on being ready for finals and often told the story that, during each finals week, he usually played golf every day. He knew he was ready for the exams, and he felt golf made him more relaxed and better prepared to face the rigors of taking finals.

The Move to Fort Collins

Bill and Marjorie enjoyed their years in Boulder and decided that they wanted to remain in Colorado. After graduation, they visited various communities, ultimately deciding to settle in Fort Collins. Once Bill was admitted to practice law in Colorado, he opened an office there. Shortly thereafter, Herb Alpert, a long-time Fort Collins attorney, asked Bill to join him. During World War II, Herb Alpert had been one of the few attorneys who remained in Fort Collins and, thus, had established a significant clientele.

Mr. Alpert worked very hard, but Bill was fiercely competitive, and was not to be outdone by the older attorney. Mr. Alpert routinely worked every Saturday and was known to work on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. On those two holidays, Bill would tell his wife, "Don’t plan dinner until I call because I am going to work until Herb quits for the day and you never know when that might happen."

Herb Alpert practiced law in Fort Collins from 1927 until his death in 1951. Mr. Alpert died unexpectedly in 1951. By that time, Bill had performed work for most of Mr. Alpert’s clients and was able to retain all of the clientele except for the Burlington Northern Railroad. Officials of the railroad insisted on having an attorney with at least seventeen years of experience, and Bill did not qualify. As was typical of almost all of the lawyers in Fort Collins in the 1950s and 1960s, Bill was primarily a general practitioner. However, in his later years, he did mostly transactional legal work, such as corporations and real estate law.

A Respected Lawyer
And Citizen

Bill was highly respected professionally. He deeply cared about his clients and went out of his way to be a comfort to them. Frequently, he would meet with clients at their homes rather than at his office because he felt the clients would be more at ease in their own surroundings. He also was a frequent visitor to his clients who were in the hospital or otherwise ill. He had many clients who were reluctant to make any major decision before talking to Bill, even though the decision had nothing to do with legal matters.

Bill had a deep respect for the law and the rights of each individual. In the late 1950s, a young woman was brutally murdered in the Fort Collins area. A man was arrested and charged with the murder, but he could not afford to hire an attorney. Because there were no public defenders at the time, local counsel needed to be appointed to represent the defendant. The defendant had confessed to the crime and, understandably, the community was outraged.

The district attorney took the position that the defendant should receive the death penalty if he was convicted of the crime. The local bar knew that whoever handled the defense would receive substantial negative publicity. Nevertheless, Bill and Ralph Coyte (who later served on the Colorado Court of Appeals) accepted the appointment as defense counsel because they both strongly felt that the defendant was entitled to be properly represented throughout the proceedings.

The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder; however, despite the efforts of the district attorney to get the death penalty, the jury decided that the defendant should receive a sentence of life imprisonment for the crime. One of Bill’s daughters recalls that the trial was very hard on Bill. He had not been doing much criminal defense work at the time and was anxious to do well in the trial. His daughter remembers that he brought work home each night to prepare and that he suffered stomach problems while the trial was in progress.

In the 1950s, Bill met Byron White, who was then an attorney in Denver, and the two became good friends. When John F. Kennedy was running for president, Mr. White was in charge of the Kennedy campaign in Colorado. As a result of Bill’s friendship with Mr. White, Bill also became involved in the campaign. Locally, it was anticipated that if Mr. Kennedy were elected, Bill would likely go back to Washington in some high-level capacity. However, Bill’s wife became quite ill, and he advised Mr. White that he would not consider leaving Fort Collins because of her health. Sadly, she died shortly thereafter. Bill remained a friend of Justice White throughout his life.

Dedication to Community

Bill Allen was involved in numerous community activities in Fort Collins. In 1950, he was president of the Larimer County Red Cross. Bill served on the Fort Collins City Council from 1955 to 1959 and was elected mayor of the city from 1955 to 1957. He was elected to the Poudre R-1 School Board in 1959, serving until 1964, and was president from 1960 to 1964.

Bill also was a long-time member of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and served as president in 1973. In 1983, the Chamber presented Bill with the prestigious Collins Award for his outstanding contribution to the community. He also was active in the Larimer County Bar Association and served as president in 1960. Elected to the Board of Directors of Home Federal Savings and Loan Association (now Key Bank), Bill served many years as chairman.

Bill was a man who could always be relied on to achieve results. When he first moved to Fort Collins, there was only one nine-hole golf course in town. As the popularity of golf grew, the course became more and more crowded. In the late 1950s, Bill and some of his friends decided another golf course was needed. The group located an appropriate piece of land for a new course. Bill was heavily involved in the negotiations for the purchase of the land and the construction of the golf course facilities, which now are the Fort Collins Country Club. Bill was a founding member of the Club, and a room in the clubhouse is named in his honor.

In the early 1960s, Bill started a farming operation with a friend. They bought some farmland, grew crops, and raised cattle. Bill enjoyed being involved in agriculture. He ultimately moved to a home located on the farm and commuted to town for his law practice. He continued to live on the farm until the late 1970s, when Anheuser-Busch bought the house and the surrounding property for its new Fort Collins brewery.

In 1982, Bill married Genevieve Conley. Bill and Genny began spending each winter in Naples, Florida. In 1986, Bill retired from the practice of law, and he and Genny permanently moved to Naples. They continued to live there until his death on December 14, 1990.

He is Still Missed

Bill was a warm and wonderful individual and an excellent attorney. His physical appearance and deep voice made him an imposing figure, both in the courtroom and at the negotiation table. At the same time, he was a true gentleman. He had incredible leadership talents and earned the respect of all who knew him. He always found time to help anyone in need, and was especially willing to mentor younger attorneys if they requested assistance. Those people who had the opportunity to know him developed a true affection for him and still miss him.

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