Local lawyer wraps up career: Wiltrout to retire after more than 39 years of Worthington practice

WORTHINGTON -- After four decades of legal practice -- all of it in Worthington -- local attorney Joel Wiltrout will retire Friday. A partner since 2002 in the firm of Ahlquist & Wiltrout LLP, Wiltrout was inspired to become a lawyer by his l...

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Joel Wiltrout poses Wednesday in the offices of Ahlquist & Wiltrout in Worthington. Tim Middagh/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON - After four decades of legal practice - all of it in Worthington - local attorney Joel Wiltrout will retire Friday.

A partner since 2002 in the firm of Ahlquist & Wiltrout LLP, Wiltrout was inspired to become a lawyer by his late father’s example.
“My dad (Irving Wiltrout) was a lawyer - and then a municipal judge, and later a county judge - in Marshall, and I respected him very much,” said Wiltrout, who will celebrate his 68th birthday in July.
“It seemed to be a very interesting profession.”
Nearly 40 years later, Wiltrout is certain he made the correct career choice.
“What I’ve enjoyed most about practicing in Worthington is working with and knowing other attorneys and judges from this area; there’s a camaraderie among us, and I respect their professionalism,” said Wiltrout.
“We’ve always been lucky out here to have judges who are not only good at their jobs but are also good people, and it’s the same with the lawyers.”
Wiltrout, the second of two sons, graduated from Marshall High School in 1966 before attending Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., with a major in history.
“I was in advanced ROTC while at Creighton, so I was commissioned as a second lieutenant,” said Wiltrout.
“Basically, I was on a scholarship from the U.S. Army so I was committed to four years of active duty with them.”
For three years of that service, Wiltrout was stationed in Baumholder, West Germany; his final duty station was at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“Being in the Army was a great experience,” affirmed Wiltrout. “I met a lot of great and good people during those years, and I’ve never had a regret about the time I served, but I was also OK about getting out because I knew I wanted to got to law school.
While attending Creighton University School of Law, Wiltrout went on a blind date with Karen, an attractive, affable registered nurse. Before long, she became his wife, and the pair will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in 2017.
“I thought Joel was intelligent, outgoing and motivated,” said Karen Wiltrout, who retired last June as director of Minnesota West’s registered nursing program, of her spouse.
“Professionally, he’s always been passionate about practicing law, and it’s always seemed to me that he worked tirelessly to achieve the best outcome for his clients.”
Worthington became the Wiltrouts’ home in part because of a tip from Irving Wiltrout.
“My dad was still a county judge in Marshall at the time, and he was in Worthington for the dedication of the new courthouse, which is now the Nobles County Government Center, on 10th Street,” recalled Wiltrout.
“Gary Crippen (then the Nobles County district judge) told him that the Brecht, Hedeen and Hughes law firm was looking for a lawyer, so he suggested I send them a résumé.”
Wiltrout followed through and was hired. He worked for Worthington legal legends Arnold Brecht, Bill Hedeen and Larry Hughes from early September 1977 to Dec. 31, 1984.

“Then I went in with Larry Lucht, from the start of 1985 until after the fire (in September 2000, which destroyed the former Lang’s Bakery along with the adjacent law firm on Third Avenue),” detailed Wiltrout.
Todd Ahlquist joined the Lucht and Wiltrout practice in 1988, and when Lucht opted to become a solo practitioner in 2002, Wiltrout and Ahlquist established Ahlquist & Wiltrout LLP.
“I’ve appreciated Joel not only as a lawyer but also as a friend,” said Ahlquist. “Joel’s representation of his clients was marked with passion, preparedness, and excellent knowledge of the law, all tempered with a willingness to research and learn more, and be a tough negotiator when necessary.
“Joel cared greatly for the wellbeing of his clients, and he will be greatly missed in our law office and this legal community,” Ahlquist added.
Nevertheless, Wiltrout plans to make this week his last full one as a lawyer.
“I’m officially retiring on Friday, but I hope to stay ‘of counsel’ with the firm,” said Wiltrout, who in recent years has narrowed his practice to mainly family law cases and civil litigation.
“In 1977, when I started practicing, lawyers here had to do everything: family law, insurance defense work, plaintiff’s work, estate planning, probate, most anything that walked in the door we would look at,” he listed.
Another change Wiltrout has seen in the regional legal landscape in the past 39-plus years is that “lawyers used to cover a lot more territory and practice in a bigger area than now,” he said.
“I used to have cases in eight to 10 counties, and lately it’s been concentrated mostly in Nobles, Rock, Murray and Cottonwood counties.”
Wiltrout attributes that partly to there being fewer trials today than in the past, and also to the fact that “Nobles County is a very busy county; we have more people here than all those other counties have,” he observed.
While family law isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, Wiltrout felt he was being of service.
“There is a need for family law lawyers, but not every lawyer wants to deal with it because there are challenging issues involved,” said Wiltrout.
“But someone has to do it, and I felt I did it and did it well.”
Personally, Wiltrout has kept his own marriage strong by seeing it as a “we” endeavor.
“Everything in our family has been a ‘we’ since Day One; we’ve been a true partnership, and hopefully I’ve learned a little from other people’s mistakes,” said Wiltrout.
“We’ve had a wonderful marriage, and we agreed that Worthington was a good place to raise a family.”
The Wiltrouts have four children: Eric (and wife Shari) of Cambridge; Aaron (and wife Mandy) of Indio, Calif.; Abby (and husband Travis Willemssen) of Hugo; and Brett (and wife Ashley) of Worthington. Two Wiltrout offspring (daughter Abby is a research librarian at Fredrikson & Byron PA, and Brett is a sergeant with the Worthington Police Department) have loosely followed their father’s legal lead.
“We have 11 grandchildren, and our involvement with them is extremely enjoyable,” said Wiltrout. “It can be time-consuming, but it’s always time well spent.”
Besides devoting attention to his children’s activities during their youths, Wiltrout was an active community volunteer, having been a two-term ISD 518 Board of Education director, a YMCA board member, a CCSI board member and a St. Mary’s School Association member, among other commitments.
“There are things you just do for your community,” said Wiltrout. “They ask, and you volunteer; I was happy to do these things.”
Daily noon walks - at the YMCA in inclement weather - with professional colleague Mark Shepherd have also been stress relievers for Wiltrout.
“We’ve walked regularly for 14 years,” said Wiltrout. “It’s a nice release, though not very interesting - we just walk.
“And we try not to talk law due to confidentiality, but there are other topics we have to discuss, and I enjoy it - not as much as I enjoy practicing law, though.”
Shepherd, who calls Wiltrout a “trustworthy friend,” also commented, “Joel excelled as a professional with his courteous and gentlemanly manner.
“In addition, he was honest and forthright in his dealings with judges and opposing attorneys. While he is retiring from the practice of law, I’m happy to report he has assured me he will not be retiring from our daily walks.”
As a retiree, Wiltrout intends to be Karen’s “gardening assistant,” travel, visit grandchildren and indulge his love of reading.
“There wasn’t much time for that when the kids were young,” said Wiltrout with a laugh. “All our boys played basketball, and Abby did dance line and played tennis, so we were just constantly supporting our children - and now we head out to watch the grandkids.”
Worthington, however, will continue to be the Wiltrouts’ home.
“I grew up in a small town and Karen came from a small town (Central City, Neb.), so the size is comfortable,” said Wiltrout. “And Lake Okabena is a beautiful asset.
“But it’s the people and the friends we’ve made here who make it great.”

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