by Mary Schenk

(originally published by the News-Gazette, Champaign, Illinois, June 19, 2006)

Honorees all graduated from U of I Law School, practiced in area for over 50 years: Balbach, Erwin, Fraker, Green, Hatch, Mamer, Phebus, Thies

Their accomplishments are legion. Their devotion to the law profession unsurpassed. And for their contributions, eight men, who are all graduates of the University of Illinois College of Law, have been selected as the first class of the Champaign County Bar Association's "Pillars of the Bar."

Six men still living and two who have died will be honored at a dinner June 26, which follows a golf outing to raise money for the Illinois Bar Foundation, Champaign County Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. All of the men chosen practiced more than 50 years in Champaign County. What follows are a few of the highlights of their careers:

Stanley Balbach

Balbach is best known locally for launching Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund, a lawyer-owned organization that provides title insurance and other products and services to member lawyers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.

The 86-year-old Urbana man whose firm bears his name Balbach & Fehr graduated from the UI College of Law in 1942 and was admitted to the bar that year but served three years in the U.S. Army Air Force before returning to Champaign County to begin his law practice.

As a member of the Young Lawyers section of the American Bar Association in the 1950s, he promoted the idea of a bar-related title company in Illinois to preserve the attorney's place in the real estate market. His efforts led to the creation of Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund, which now has offices in Champaign, Chicago, the greater Chicago area, Belleville and Madison, Wis. ATG has some 3,800 member lawyers and employs about 250 people. Balbach served on its board of directors from its inception in 1964 to 2004.

Balbach was a charter member of the Illinois Bar Foundation; he's held several leadership positions in both the state and American Bar Association; and he served on the Chamber of Commerce's transportation committee for more than 30 years.

His son, S. Byron Balbach, practices with him.

Sam Erwin

Mr. Erwin died Nov. 12, 2002, at 67. The Champaign man graduated from the UI College of Law in 1963 after serving in the Navy as an officer for three years.

He started his law career in the Chicago area with Amoco Oil Co. and Carson Pirie Scott, then returned to Champaign where he eventually opened the practice that is now known as Erwin, Martinkus and Cole Ltd.

His practice concentrated on estate planning, real estate and business matters. He was well-known for his activity in the corporate field and for helping small businesses get off the ground.

Mr. Erwin served on the Champaign City Council for six years and was president of the Community Foundation of Champaign County. He was also active in Republican politics and served as president of the Young Republicans of Champaign County. He also served as a member of the board of trustees at the First Presbyterian Church in Champaign for two terms.

French Fraker Sr.

Born in Shelbyville, the late French Fraker Sr., of Champaign was 90 when he died Feb. 7, 2005. He began his law career in 1938 after graduating from the UI and in 1940 became a member of the Champaign firm that bore the name Dobbins, Fraker, Tennant, Joy and Perlstein, when he died. Mr. Fraker practiced until his death.

Active in the local and state bar associations, he engaged in litigation, estate planning and probate law, municipal corporate and public utilities law. For 44 years, he served as the attorney for the Champaign Park District Board, where he helped write the uniform park code and provided many services for free. He also served as the attorney for Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative for 60 years.

Outside of work, he served as elder, trustee and treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, where he had been a member since 1926.

Frederick Green

Justice Fred Green, 82, of Urbana, spent most of his legal career on the bench. After service in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945, Green graduated from the UI in 1949 and was part of the Fighting Illini basketball team that helped take the school to the Final Four tournament in 1949. Green went on to the UI College of Law, graduating in 1951.

After a few years of private practice, Green was selected as a Champaign County judge in 1956 and held that title until 1964, when he became a circuit judge. He held that post until 1974, when he was elected to the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield. He remained on the appeals court until his retirement in 1998.

Green, who has a son and daughter-in-law who are also attorneys, served on numerous law-related committees, most notably as chairman of the Illinois Judicial Conference Executive Committee and on the Joint Committee on Modern Day Judicial Article Amendments to the Illinois Constitution.

He was one of the founding members of the Urban League of Champaign County in the 1960s and served in leadership posts for the Varsity I Association, the Frances Nelson Health Center, the Children's Home and Aid Society and the Champaign County Mental Health Association.

Lawrence Hatch

Lawrence "Bud" Hatch, 94, of Urbana, graduated from the UI College of Law in 1937 and joined the H.I. Green law offices, where he had worked before becoming a lawyer. As an associate, he became a widely recognized authority on mineral law in the development of gas and oil fields in southern Illinois. He has long been involved in drainage law, real estate, trust and probate law.

His son, Bill Hatch, also of the firm now known as the Hatch Law Firm in Champaign, has practiced with his father for 39 years. Hatch also has two grandsons who are attorneys. Four lawyers from his firm have gone on to be state and federal judges.

Hatch's nomination said that "probably no one in the local bar has a greater recollection of the history of farmland ownership, soil types and identity of the farmers on Champaign County farms than he, usually because he represented a party in either the sale or purchase or drafted the lease. He will seldom be seen without having his plat book nearby."

Hatch is still practicing.

Stuart Mamer

Born 85 years ago in East Hardin, Mamer graduated No. 1 in his class from the UI College of Law in 1947. Admitted to the bar that year, he joined the firm of Thomas & Mulliken, the firm that now bears his name: Thomas, Mamer & Haughey in downtown Champaign.

A fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, Mamer specializes in probate, trusts, real estate and tax law and is still practicing.

He served for five years as a commissioner of the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. For 20 years he taught legal drafting and law office practice at the UI College of Law.

Outside the office, Mamer has been a board member of the Children's Home and Aid Society, is past president and past drive chairman for the United Fund, past president of the board of the McKinley Foundation and has been a member of the Kiwanis Club of Champaign-Urbana.

Darius Phebus

At 95, Phebus is the oldest of the honorees. A resident of Champaign but a fixture among downtown Urbana lawyers, Phebus began practice in 1936 after graduating from the UI. He joined the firm of Green & Palmer, now known as Phebus & Koester in Urbana. He continued with that firm until his retirement in 1998. His son, Joe Phebus, still a member of that firm, practiced with his father for 30 years.

During his initial years, Phebus was active in civil trial practice, primarily in the defense area. Combining real estate and civil trial practice for many years, he was involved in condemnations, including representing Peoples Gas Light and Coke Co. as its lead attorney in the acquisition of the Manlove gas storage field located in northwest Champaign County. In later years, he served as general counsel to the Urbana Park District.

While in law school, he served on the UI Fire Department. And during World War II, he served as a field artillery officer in the Army in Europe.

Richard Thies

The youngest living pillar, Richard "Dick" Thies, 74, is probably best known among his peers for his service to the Illinois State Bar Association.

Thies, of Urbana, graduated from the UI College of Law in 1955 and served in the Judge Advocate General's Department of the U.S. Air Force from 1956-58. Since that time, he has been with the downtown Urbana firm that bears his name Webber & Thies. He has two sons, David Thies and John Thies, also in that practice.

Thies' practice runs the gamut from financial planning to the creation of sole proprietorships and corporations to representing newspapers and radio stations in sales and purchases and First Amendment issues. He has negotiated labor contracts and handled employment discrimination cases.

He has practiced real estate, health care and environmental law and negotiated in China on behalf of U.S. clients wanting to do business there.

Thies served as president of the state bar association in 1986-87 and on its board of governors for 15 years, the longest term for any lawyer. He has also been secretary and treasurer of the state association as well as having served on numerous committees.

He's held several posts within the American Bar Association since joining it in 1955.

Thies is a member of the president's council of the UI Foundation and the Dean's Club of the UI College of Law. A member of the UI Alumni Association, he served four times on its trustee selection committee.

Outside work, he has been involved with the Champaign-Urbana Kiwanis Club, the Urbana Association of Commerce, the citizens advisory board of the Urbana School Board, the Salvation Army advisory board, the Urbana Park Board, the Urban League and the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana.

[Last update: 6-23-06]