Lucy Upson: The Lady and the Law

By Ann Wharton, Staff Writer

That particular day there was definitely something different about her office. Her desk was almost cleared. Usually stacks of work are everywhere. When a client comes in, she searches through a particular pile to find the item "she knows" is right there somewhere and it usually is.

Fifty years is a long time to be in one profession. But Miss Lucy Upson will have 50 years as a member of the American Bar Association behind her next July and she's still not sure when she will retire.

Her first step toward retirement was in 1957 when she sold her building in Warsaw and built an addition onto her home in Winona Lake. That was for semi-retirement. Finally in 1967 she became associated with William Dalton II, who does the court work now.

Can't Seem to Retire
But as she said, "I still have clients and I still have interest." So somehow she never got around to retiring. That she wrote more than 500 wills last year proves it.

The fact that she still has clients accounts for the fact that she never retires. The fact that she has clients also accounts for the fact that she became a lawyer in the beginning.

Miss Upson started in law as a legal secretary with the Vesey Law Offices, Fort Wayne, in 1909, following her graduation from the Fort Wayne International Business College.

She had a brief vacation (less than a year) from the field when she moved with her family to Vancouver, Wash. and worked at the Vancouver National Bank. The family returned to Kosciusko County a year later, and she worked for Stookey and Anglin as a legal secretary.

Had Clients Before Degree
After both partners had died, she discovered that she had clients. She had read a substantial amount of law and decided she should work for a degree. She enrolled in a law correspondence course from Chicago, obtained her L. L. B. degree and was admitted to the bar in 1926.

She was the last person to take the bar examination locally before a committee in the county. She took an oral exam over the entire scope of the law. All aspiring attorneys today go to Indianapolis for extensive written bar examinations.

Her career has brought challenges and satisfaction to the 88-year-old attorney who conquered new frontiers by entering law. When she first entered law, the only other women attorneys she knew were in Indianapolis. Besides being the first woman to practice law in Kosciusko County, she was the first woman attorney to appear in Elkhart Circuit Court. Today she is still the only woman attorney in the county. In addition to working in Kosciusko and Elkhart counties, she has had cases venued to all the surrounding counties and is familiar with the courts.

Favored Compromise of Cases
Lucy contends that she has never been much of an orator. Her method has been one of successful compromise on behalf of her clients. As she says, "I was always more of a compromiser than I was a fighter in court. I'll say that I was unusually lucky at being able to be at the right place or knowing the right thing to say at the right time to work things out."

In recounting her most interesting case, she pointed out that it was not terribly dramatic, but very satisfying. It was a damage suit where a land owner had assaulted a tenant in an effort to get the tenant to move. She came to Lucy to file charges. The case was venued to Elkhart County, and she was against what she would term the best lawyer in Northern Indiana, although a lot of people said he was the best in the state Sam Parker.

Winning Her Case
It was a jury trial and the first time Parker had been in a courtroom with a woman. That woman won $500 in damages for her client. She said "I've never been an orator, but I made my speech to the jury and won."

Part of her success she attributes to her care in preparation. She cited several incidents where her extra attention to detail made the difference between winning and losing the case. "If you're a woman in a field like this, where men are in the same field, you have to be sure that you are prepared. A lot of men go into court not very well prepared."

Continuing, she recalled, "I remember arguing a point of law on a claims case Judge John Sloan presided. The other attorney was George Bowser, who was newer in the field than I was. I knew I was making points that he had a right to object to, but I went on anyhow like you always do because I had a good brief on the subject."

She stopped a minute in her story to stress the importance of a good brief when an attorney goes into court. "Someone," she said, "has said that a lawyer in court without a brief is like a ship without a rudder. But a lot of attorneys go into court without one."

Pays Attention to Detail
Finally, Judge Sloan asked George Bowser if he wasn't aware that I was making statements that could be objected to. He sort of straightened up like he had been asleep and said, "Oh, I object!"

She once won a case against Walter Brubaker, "who was a very good lawyer because I had a point in that case that I don't think he had thought of applying to this particular case. But it did. The judge decided it in my favor. He (Brubaker) was surprised that he would be beat on a point of law because he would remember the book and the page where a thing was cited. He had a very good memory and good knowledge of law."

Not Bothered by Discrimination
Asked if she had suffered discrimination because of her sex throughout her cdareer, she could think of only one time. On that occasion she as involved in a case that required working with Morrison Rockhill. When she called him about the case, he told her he simply couldn't work it out with her because he couldn't talk to a woman. That was the end of the conversation. Rockhill was in partnership with Walter Brubaker, who contacted her and worked out a compromise on the case. Eventually, according to Lucy, she and Rockhill became fairly good friends and respected one another.

Perhaps part of the reason that discrimination hasn't been a problem is the fact she seems to command respect naturally. According to Mrs. Mabel Robinson, who has been Lucy's friend for more than 55 years, "She demands courtesy without trying. People naturally treat her with respect. Through everything she is fair, but just. She loves people.

Mrs. Jean Coverstone, who has known Lucy through her aunt, Mrs. Nellie Tuckey, since Jean was a girl, says she has never seen Lucy lose her dignity. "It's just a natural part of her." Mrs. Tuckey was Kosciusko Circuit Court reporter for years and a close friend of Lucy's.

Doesn't Need NOW
Concerning the Equal Rights Amendment and the National Organization of Women, she states, "If you're a woman and want to compete with men, you can do that without an organization and being represented. I refused to join NOW for that reason.

"I've never asked special favors because I was a woman. I transacted business as a business person along with other lawyers."

Mixed Business and Pleasure

Her strongest interests during her career have been estates, real estate contracts, and tax work. In fact, it was through her work with estates that she took one of the most memorable trips of her life.

In 1930 she had a client who had received an inheritance. Among the items in the estate was a Studebaker that required delivery to her client in the state of Washington. Ingenious person that she is, it occurred to her that perhaps the best solution for her client was for Lucy to deliver it in person.

She contacted several girlfriends who equipped themselves with $100 apiece, bedding for the cabins they'd be staying in "there went any luxury motels then), and a spirit of adventure. They arrived in tact at her client's

The next major decision was on a method to get home. The group decided to buy a car of questionable merit for the return trip. The Star, as the model was called was packed and the women headed for Lucy's brother's in California.

Missed Bad Accident
Event number one occurred before they ever got there. A minor collision halted their progress just south of San Francisco. Lucy contacted her brother, Harold, who rescued them. Following a safe arrival at his home, the two of them went back to pick up the stranded car. As they returned to San Jose, one wheel simply fell off and rolled into the field.

A few days later, with the car repaired, they set off for home. Her brother told her that he wouldn't trust the thing to take him to San Francisco, let alone to Indiana. But she was considered the unusually lucky one of the family.

Stalled Near Station
Close to a town, Vallejo, Calif., they had their first trouble with an overheated engine. From there they continued across the desert and the mountains to Nevada. All at once the car wouldn't run. Looking across the desolate area, they saw a town within walking distance! The man, upon looking at the car, determined that it needed a coil. It just happened that he had one in stock. It was close to evening, so Lucy and her companions had to find a place to sleep. They took the best there was available a couple of empty miner's cabins.

There in the middle of nowhere, Lucy lay down and slept soundly all night while one of the other girls listened to the jack rabbits and never slept a wink.

According to Mrs. Robinson, "If she goes to sleep you might as well just move her out of the way; she doesn't know anything." This advantage of being able to sleep under all circumstances has been a blessing that Lucy has enjoyed all her life, even when she broke her hip last January.

Fixes Engine for 50 Cents
The rest of the journey proved to be as eventful as the first. Detours provided a challenge. They were always over rough gravel roads that were filed with chuckholes. The point of it all was to keep out of the ruts.

But one time they fell in. There was no way out. A man following behind them came up and inspected the car. "Your engine's about to fall out," he informed them. He was able to wire it up temporarily.

As they limped along, one of the girls remembered that a woman in Leesburg had given her the name of her nephew who lived somewhere in that very area. Better than that, he worked in a garage. The sheet of paper with the name on it was finally found, and they located him. He fixed the car for fifty cents.

Sprang Springs
After hundreds of miles of bouncing and jostling, the springs grew weaker and weaker. In Illinois one gave way. They found help again, and the spring was replaced with a block. The last miles to Indiana were uneventful, and they arrived home with most of their $100 in their purses. Finally they sold the Star for $100.

Has Spirit of Adventure
Certainly that estate case brought a fair share of adventure. That spirit of adventure is still with her, and it makes her a special person. Life is not something just to be endured. Her associate, William Dalton, II, described it "She is a fantastic person. She is one of the most positive persons I have ever met. Her attitude is always cheerful"

Her secretary, Kay Mitterling, confirms this outlook. "She is very easy to work for and to get along with." Mrs. Robinson describes her as jovial. She said, "During her illness (when Lucy broke her hip), I never heard her complain." Her dry wit is another very positive asset.

At 88 Lucy's still traveling. In October she flew to San Jose, Calif to spend three weeks with her brother, Harold. In February or March she plans a trip to Osprey, Fla. to visit her sister Mildred Miller.

Not Planning An Estate
Ironically Lucy doesn't plan to leave an estate. Her philosophy is to enjoy her money and travel rather than leave any estate that will give a large fee to an attorney.

Traveling is her favorite hobby and she has visited all 50 states. She used to enjoy traveling by car but now flying is her favority.

Her most lasting impression of a flight was one she took to Alaska in 1947. She took a round-about flight in a small plane to go to Washington state and thought she was never going to get there.

The most spectacular sight was on the flight to Alaska. "We went up over the water, and you could see all the glaciers and the blocks of ice falling from the glaciers into the bay."

On the return flight she was impressed by the beauty "when the sun came up and it seemed that all of Canada was ablaze with sunlight from the plane. I have never seen anything so magnificent as that view from the plane."

Enjoys Remarkable Stamina
People who meet her or who knew her years ago find it remarkable that she is still active in her profession and interested in traveling.

Her memory is clear. In fact, Bill Dalton contends that she remembers things better than he does sometimes. Recently Mrs. Jean Coverstone met Lucy in a restaurant and stopped to speak to her.

They spoke of a trip to Florida that Jean, Lucy, Nellie Tuckey and her son, John had taken. "I remember that," Lucy said, "You were nine years old." Shaking her head, Jean said, "I'd have had to county the years to be sure."

Even more remarkable is her reaction last January when she broke her hip. For many older people such an injury causes deep depression and a feeling of hopelessness. For Lucy it was something to get over so she could get back into the swing of things.

Challenged by Broken Hip
Before she was completely out from under the anesthetic, she was asking her secretary to bring her work into the hospital. While she recuperated at Miller's Merry Manor, she received clients and transacted business. Income tax time was approaching and she had to try to keep ahead of her work. Nurses wheeled her down the hall to answer the phone.

She didn't get her strength back over night, but she progressed from being confined to bed, to a wheelchair to a walker to the heavy cane she uses today. But Kay states that Lucy doesn't actually need it, it's more for security than anything else.

Her strong will and determination are evident through her experiences with the broken hip Dalton says. "The day she broke her hip a man had expressed interest in buying her home I took her to the emergency ward, and as she was waiting to be wheeled into the examining room, she said, "Don't contact any real estate agent. I'm not through with that house yet."

As soon as she could, she began to think about getting back on her feet Kay said. "She was determined that she was going to walk again. She cooperated fully with the doctors and the therapists."

Characterized as Generous
As people talk about her another picture emerges. "She's one of the most generous persons I have ever known," Dalton says. "To me she typifies what Christianity is all about." Mrs. Robinson confirms the impression. "She does so much for so many people that no one knows about."

What Lucy has, she has worked for and earned by herself. She never received an inheritance or anything like it, according to Mrs. Robinson. "But since she has had more, she never flaunts it."

"She's very quiet in some ways, but she's very mischievous," says Mrs. Robinson just to insure a true picture of Lucy's personality. "She like a good argument, and to top it off, she likes everything with onions (no pun intended)"

"One accomplishment of which Lucy is proud is that she still drives her Car and has never had a problem getting her driver's license. And she hasn't stopped looking to the future. Within the last year, she has purchased a farm in Whitley County. "It has any number of possibilities," she said.

She has been active in several organizations besides the American Bar Association. She is a charter member of the local Business and Professional Women's Club. The club was organized in 1927, and she served as the second president from 1929-1931. She is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a charter member of the Kosciusko County Historical Society. She drew up the by-laws for the organization when it was formed 10 years ago. In addition she is a member of the Winona Lake Literary Club and the Winona Lake Presbyterian Church.

All in all Miss Lucy Upson is truly a remarkable woman who plans to retire next summer after 50 years as an attorney in Kosciusko County MAYBE.

 Lucy Upson
Lucy Upson in 1959

 Lucy Upson
Lucy Upson in 1975

Warsaw Times Union SPOTLIGHT Magazine December 27, 1975 - January 3, 1976 Pages 12-13.

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