The Trusted Adviser
September 2011 | Volume 4 • Number 7

Update from ATG Trust Company

The Successes of Sisyphus:


March 3, 1945 — September 3, 2011

by Robert Lopardo, President, ATG Trust Company

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king punished by being compelled to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down. Each day he had to repeat this throughout eternity. According to legend he is still at it.

Our own Sisyphus story is much more uplifting, though it was a long time before the rock reached the pinnacle and began its inevitable descent down the other side to the valley of success. One man had much to do with that success.

Dennis (Denny) A. Norden was, at the time of his recent and untimely passing, only 66 years of age. In his role as Senior Vice President and General Counsel at ATG Trust Company, Chicago, he spent much of his time negotiating trust agreement language, advising attorneys on how to handle specific and unique drafting measures to satisfy the never ending variety of things people can think of to complicate the financial paths their heirs and beneficiaries will one day inherit.

But his long road to that role is filled with story after story of the Sisyphus-like efforts he employed along the way during his nearly thirty-year career as an attorney in Kankakee, Illinois.

After receiving both his undergraduate and law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Denny returned to Kankakee and hung out his shingle in 1969. His early days included working as a Kankakee County assistant state's attorney and in the Public Defender's Office. In 1978, he became part of a law practice that included Glenn Barmann, Chris Bohlen, and Armen and Paul Blanke. His practice covered real estate and general corporate law as well as estate planning and settlement and specialized practice areas in the health care field. Among other areas of community and bar involvement, Denny volunteered with the Kankakeeland Legal Aid Society, served as chairman of the Kankakee Area Chamber of Commerce, even ventured into journalism as a part-owner of a group of weekly newspapers. He was a past chairman of the Illinois State Bar Association's 3,500 member Real Estate Section Council and a frequent lecturer and author of numerous publications in the trust and estate field.

On a more personal note, Denny was born in Chicago, the son of Arthur F. and Alice A. Offerman Norden. Surviving are two daughters, Cathy Norden, of Chicago, and Amy Norden, of Largo, Florida; one son, Adam Norden, of Chicago; one sister and brother-in-law, Jan and Rick Bukowski, of Kankakee; and one brother and sister-in-law, Kevin and Deborah Norden, of Kankakee. Denny enjoyed traveling, cooking, reading, playing golf, and time spent at the beach.

If you would like to read about his storied adventures in the practice of law, there was a wonderful article about him in Kankakee's The Daily Journal that appeared on September 7, 2011. It was written by Dennis Yohnka, with assistance from Kevin Norden — Denny's brother, who is also the production director at the paper. Yohnka is a longtime friend of both Nordens.

Since his Kankakee practice included real estate, Denny was an active ATG member and served on the Board of Directors of Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund, Inc. (ATG) from 1986 until forming the trust company in 1998. Not just a title insurance company, ATG is more importantly an organization that has at its core the mission to be "a lawyer service organization for the benefit of the profession and the public." It's not just a plaque on the wall, they mean it. The creation of ATG Trust is one of the best examples of just how much.

Denny and others had a vision that was in keeping with the company's mission, but a step away from real estate. They saw an opportunity for a privately organized trust company, not affiliated with a bank in any way. It was Denny's belief that the link between banking and trust services was purely an accident. He saw the fundamental roles of those two very different financial services as not only difficult to ally, but almost diametrically opposed. It appears he was correct, as usual.

Big banks have increasingly become product sales platforms, culminating for many of them in the packaged mortgage and derivative fiascos that are still unfolding. Trust is about relationships, to which many banks only give lip service these days. Denny saw that clearly.

So, with the support of the ATG Board, a start-up trust company was created. All the traditional trust services would be offered but with an important and very unusual shift in the business plan: This company would not market to the public, but rather to the point where a decision about when to use a trust and which trustee to use is most often made&€”the attorney's office.

A tough sell at first, but it turns out Denny's idea was a good one. We are approaching 15 years of successful service. We have 700 member attorneys, an excellent book of current business, and several thousand trust account documents sitting in lawyers' file cabinets where our name appears for that down-the-road trustee position. It seems clear that this decision was sound. But consider day one of this venture.

As a lawyer, recommending any institution to your clients becomes a reflection on you. It is true of any profession but lawyers have a higher stake in their reputations than most others. You are highly visible members of your community, held to the highest of fiduciary standards and are personally liable, it seems, for an off hand comment at a barbeque let alone telling someone to use a start-up entity to entrust their life savings and the future of their family.

Denny had a large rock, a steep hill and an unflagging belief that this was the right thing to do. Courage and determination won out over fear and skepticism.

He began to traverse the highways and byways of Illinois to personally deliver the message to lawyers. He was clear and succinct: "You can count on us to take care of things." He made sure of it.

It was his personal involvement and many years of practice, interfacing with so many lawyers, that brought him the instant credibility a new company could not otherwise have rightfully claimed. He put his reputation on the line to protect yours, and ours.

Denny put together top flight training seminars for lawyers on estate planning, from the very basics to sophisticated techniques. He brought on presenters who lent their own credibility to the process. He was building our brand.

Denny's initial colleague in the venture was Henry (Hank) Blacharczyk, the first president of the trust company. They were an effective team, and Hank also spent a great deal of time trying to build the brand. However, things took an unexpected turn when Hank died suddenly in April 2001 on the golf course with his family. Overnight, Denny had an even heavier rock to push, this one more personal: Keep the company on course while working with the board to find a new president. Whether he succeeded at the latter is a matter of humble opinion, but the trust company definitely stayed the course.

The rock slipped back down the hill some, but Denny never took his eye off of it. By the time I came on board, almost four months later, a lot of momentum was shifted away from the first rock so the current rock could star rolling up its hill. A supportive Board of Directors, most of whom are still here today, agreed to let me have the president's mantle, and Denny went back out on the road.

In the ensuing 10 years Denny wore out four cars and was working on the fifth just purchased. Though his role had shifted to more general counsel matters, he still loved driving to towns big and small to talk with lawyers about his passion for what he was building. He told me more than once that if he had his druthers, he would be south of I-80 any day than cooped up in a downtown office building.

Since he grew up on a farm he truly enjoyed working on estates and trusts with farmland to care for. But he was equally adept at sitting in a high rise office building in a glass- walled conference room, talking with big-firm lawyers about estates and trusts and the practice of law. He was never really intimidated, nor impressed, with the location of the office&€”it was the person across from him that became his focus.

He often said he could tell in five minutes if a lawyer was "worth his salt" as one. And his predictions were oh-so-right so many times and saved us from many potential disasters.

There was only one Denny and he will be sorely missed. But what he left for us to remember is an amazing story of passion, hard work, and perseverance.

Thanks, Denny. We have our eye on the rock for you.

Trust Brochure Cover The pinky-swear photo on the cover of our popular brochure, "Wherever you're going, get there with someone you trust" features Dennis Norden's rock-solid, rock-pushing right hand. Created in 2008, the cover photo that originated as a whimsical depiction of intergenerational trust also became a quiet nod toward Denny's guiding hand in the company's development. Reluctant at first, not wanting any fuss&€”he eventually took to the inference, maybe even enjoyed it. Pinkies up, Den — we'll miss you.

THE TRUSTED ADVISER is published by Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 9136, Champaign, IL 61826-9136. Inquiries may be made directly to Mary Beth McCarthy, Corporate Communications Manager. ATG®, ATG® plus logo, are marks of Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc. and are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The contents of the The Trusted Adviser © Attorneys' Title Guaranty Fund, Inc.

[Last update: 9-28-11]