Spartan Proud: Bill Dornbos, from Amber Station to Kalamazoo law.

January 12, 2018

Bill Dornbos running the Lakestride 5K with his grandson.

Spartan Proud: Bill Dornbos, from Amber Station to Kalamazoo law.#SpartanProud #MCCSchools.

Spartan Proud is sponsored by Mason County Central Schools. This series features alumni of Mason County Central telling their stories. Today we feature Bill Dornbos, MCC Class of 1962.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

The 1950s in Mason County were a time of transition in the world of education. One-room schoolhouses, that were the norm were consolidated into larger school districts. Bill Dornbos experienced the transition first hand, and further, experienced extreme culture shock when attending college.

Bill has been practicing business law for 48 years; most of that time has been spent in Kalamazoo. He returns to Mason County often, spending time in his seasonal home in Ludington. His roots, though, start in Amber Township.

“Before school consolidation, my one room school teacher at Amber Station School was Dora Bedker. Since I was the only student in grades second, third and fourth, I quickly learned that diligent preparation was a necessity, not an option,” Bill says. “She encouraged me greatly in reading, which I still enjoy.”

Bill Dornbos

As the one-room schools consolidated in the ‘50s, the Mason County Central School District was formed. “Students who did not live in Scottville, ‘country kids’ attended school in various locations including North Amber School (located on Stiles Road just south of Hansen Road) for the fifth grade and East Riverton School in the sixth and seventh grades. Blanche Hansen, my teacher in the sixth and seventh grades, was also a very positive encouragement to me.  My entire class attended the eighth and ninth grades in the old high school on North Main Street. I remember very well the indoor basketball conditioning runs up the hot and dry stairways during Christmas break.”

Construction on the current Mason County Central High School was completed in 1959 and Bill attended the school in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

“There were many excellent teachers including Gertrude Anderson, my Latin teacher and Frank Maleckas, who taught physics and chemistry.  One of my favorite teachers was Earl Keith who taught biology and geography. From him, I learned the pain of delayed all night work to complete his Christmas break bird book requirement. Another teacher with a positive impact was Bob Garrett who coached track. His quiet and humorous encouragement in running taught me how to compete and overcome physical challenges.”

Attending a small school presented many opportunities.

“Since MCC was a small school, there were many opportunities to join activities. I participated in basketball, track, band, the junior play, the year book, and as senior class president.  Participating in these areas had a positive impact on development of my self-confidence and learning to work as a team member. Working as a team with others that I experienced at MCC has been critical to my success as a transactional lawyer. 

“Playing basketball and running track taught me discipline, endurance, the value of hard work and the importance of maintaining strength and fitness.  I learned that the 440 was a sprint, which initially left me feeling nauseated. However, with experience, training and conditioning I began to love running, especially longer distances. I still run. I had the pleasure of running this year’s Lakestride 5K with several family members.”

A small school also presented its challenges as well.

“When I arrived at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as a 17-year-old in the fall of 1962, there were over 3,000 freshmen students. That was a stark contrast to 89 members in my high school class.

“Several of the lectures had over 250 students. Adjusting to the size and intensity of the university classes was definitely a challenge. My first year grade point average showed it. 

“My freshman roommate was a football player.  The team was having a losing year so he was usually in a bad mood. I used perseverance learned in MCC sports to focus on my class work.

“One challenge was that most of my freshman classmates had taken classes similar to or the equivalent of their freshman classes. I had to work especially hard to pass those classes. Eventually the ethic of hard work learned in high school paid off. The challenge and cultural shock in coming from a small high school and going to a large university was overcome by concentrating intently on my studies.”

Bill graduated from Michigan in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in political science with minors in English and psychology and a teaching certificate. He then attended Wayne State University Law School and graduated, with honors, in 1969. That year he was admitted to the Michigan Bar Association. He also served in the Michigan National Guard C Company, 156 Signal Battalion from 1970 to 1976.

Bill’s legal career began while in law school. He worked part-time at the Macomb County Legal Aid Bureau in Mt. Clemens doing debtor-creditor and family law matters. But, he wanted to return to west Michigan, which led him to a law firm in Kalamazoo where he worked from 1970 to 1982 representing lenders in bankruptcy and collections.

“One of our banking clients grew rapidly to be a mid-western regional lender in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and used me as its principal attorney in a variety of large commercial and real estate loans,” he says.

Eventually, in 2005, Bill joined Varnum, LLP, where he continues to work.

“I practice with a team of lawyers and loan officers documenting commercial loan transactions with the borrowers being non-profit organizations, colleges, universities, hospitals, Native American tribes, governmental entities and a variety of commercial developers. I am partially retired and working with a team of lawyers to transition my practice to full retirement.”

In his “partial retirement” he spends a lot of his time in Ludington.

“My wife and I have 10 grandchildren. We love entertaining them and our extended family and friends in Mason County. We especially enjoy biking, running and swimming at Stearns Park and the jetties.”

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