For the second year, I received an invitation to a coveted spot at the dinner table located in Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This supper prelude to the Indiana State Fair, hosted by Lou Gerig and Shelley Troil, brings many community leaders to a serene dinner (I was corrected when I referred to it as “lunch”) around the table that is part of the 1930s kitchen display located in Pioneer Village. When the dinner bell (yes, a real dinner bell) rings at noon, the guests are seated and surrounded by the diligent volunteers who put our agricultural history on parade for the visitors of the state fair.
While this article generally recommends places to dine, this particular article is to recommend a more important aspect of dining – the company and conversation that make a meal as or more special than the food. However, before I get to the philosophical stuff, I just have to share with you what was served: chicken and noodles, served over mashed potatoes; corn on the cob; stuffing; onion and cucumber salad; bread; and your choice of apple, gooseberry, or rhubarb pie. While I am no farmhand, I can match one in food consumption.
As we bowed our heads to pray around the table, there sat some heavyweights of our community, but those doing the heavy lifting were the agricultural specialists who take care of the artifacts that have adorned Pioneer Village for 50 years (this year being that milestone). These dedicated workers refurbish, maintain, and catalogue the relics of farming history. More importantly, they know the history they preserve. The manager, Mauri Williamson, blessed me with a personal tour of the grounds while providing me a firsthand chronicle of Indiana’s farm history. As a farmer and the director of the Purdue Ag Alumni Association for 40 years, he experienced what to me was history. Folks, this priceless recitation of facts from the past cannot be gleaned from a book, TV show, or even documentary. Mauri regaled me with stories littered with hilarities that revealed a subtle mischievousness a younger man could not have gotten away with. I spent an extra hour following Mauri around the barns and what, ultimately, the public tours as Pioneer Village.
What the heck does my afternoon at Pioneer Village have to do with this column? Well, it reminded me that we, in the legal profession, have our own “Mauris” from which we can get live history lessons about the law and the practice. You know that partner, or retired lawyer or judge, whose bar number is below 300? Well, they hold more than a low bar number, they hold a host of memories that translate into the history of our legal system. This article is to encourage you to engage, via a lunch invite, a “legal Mauri” you know who has been practicing years and years and ask them to impart stories and knowledge about the development of their practice. Within those stories is incredible, historical insight into the development of our profession. You may even learn, first hand, about the development of a legal doctrine we all assumed just appeared on the books one day. All you have to do is extend the invitation. For example, a couple of months ago, I went to lunch with Carl Overman, of counsel to Bose McKinney & Evans. Now Carl, I’ll just say, has been practicing a real long time. He described the legal layout of the land starting in the 1950s, he went on to talk about the partners he had and shed, and then he waded into the area of law he helped birth that now is a common business practice, employee stock ownership plans (aka ESOPs). What Carl imparted was by no means a history lesson but rather stories from which I extracted significant, historical intel.
To determine the future one must examine history, which is what we lawyers do all the time. How about getting it from a live source rather than Westlaw or a memo written by an associate? There are plenty of Carls and Mauris out there from which we can all learn. Thanks gentlemen for paving the way and sharing your trip with me.
So pick up the phone and make the invite – you will not be sorry. And, when you head out to the Indiana State Fair this year, you can pick up a book about the 50 years at Pioneer Village containing all sorts of tales about the village and its characters, such as Mauri, titled “Harvesting History, 50 Years of Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair.”
Pioneer Village gets 4 gavels, but not because of the food, because of the company.•
Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman in Indianapolis, focusing in criminal defense. Vaiana is a 1992 graduate of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Lukemeyer earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1994 and is active in the Indianapolis Bar Association, Indianapolis Inn of Courts, and the Teen Court Program. The opinions expressed in this column are the authors’.