If Ron Klein had been Catholic, he most likely would have chosen the priesthood. But being a Protestant, I imagine he thought becoming a lawyer would be the best way to help people.
Klein, one of the most respected members of the legal profession in DeKalb County over the past 50 years, is retiring this month and about 400 friends and well-wishers gathered to thank him at the Sycamore Train Depot on Friday.
People invariably describe him in Scouting terms—trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. They also refer to his Marine Corps motto “Semper Fi,” Always Faithful.
His younger sister Linda (Klein) Means repeated that theme in a telephone interview, saying his loyalty to family and country and caring extended back to his childhood. Above all “carrying on the family legacy is important to him.” She added he has the distinction of never taking a sick day, through high school, college, military service and all during his legal career. Wow! And I had just wanted some cute anecdotes from a little sister.
Sometime during his elementary school years in Hinckley, Ron said he decided he wanted to attend the University of Illinois, serve in the Marine Corps and become a lawyer. He accomplished all three.
After graduating from the U of I law school in 1963 he spent three years in the Marines, attaining the rank of captain and spending much of his time as a lawyer handling court martial in Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Once he got out of the service, DeKalb attorney Harold Rissman asked him to join the firm to handle Hinckley area clients since he was a local product.
As Ron was the newest lawyer in the county, Judge Cassius Poust told him he also had to serve as public defender for awhile, earning the measly salary of $3,000 a year for halftime work. Ron said in those days that office had no staff, not even a secretary. He recalls going to (then) county board chairman Eddie McGirr to ask for a raise and was told: “Why would we give you a raise when we pay the state’s attorney to prosecute the same cases?”
Over the past half-century Ron has seen major changes in his profession. When he started out there were no women lawyers and certainly no women judges in the county. Now half the Bar Association is made up of women, and the senior jurist is Judge Robbin Stuckert. He also saw technological changes—from electric typewriters with carbon paper to computers and the Internet today. Something called shorthand for secretaries has gone the way of the Dodo bird.
Even more impressive to me than his legal career, Ron has been involved in so many non-profits, boards and public service positions, I can only begin to list a few. He was the first president of at least four organizations: DeKalb County Community Foundation, DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, DeKalb County Nursing Home Foundation and the NIU Friends of the Library.
Then add leadership roles in the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society, Kishwaukee College board, Kishwaukee Community Hospital board, Opportunity House board, Resource Bank board, DeKalb County Zoning Hearing Officer for 25 years, and Hinckley Village Attorney for 30 years, among a few dozen other accomplishments.
Fortunately for the county, Ron plans to remain in his DeKalb home and won’t be resigning from any boards or other volunteer positions in the near future, he promises. But he will be spending more time with his seven grandchildren, dedicating more time to enjoying his bibliophilic hobby and perusing some of the 3,500 books in his home library, plus maybe writing his memoirs. After all, his great-grandfather bought the farm near Hinckley in 1875 and it has stayed in the family ever since. So there has got to be a Klein history worth telling after 138 years in this area.
After digging deeper into his life, I did uncover one flaw, but Ron claims he inherited it from his father: He’s a Chicago Cubs fan.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.