Neither one intended to stay this long.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Leverenz was young and just married when she started at Indianapolis Legal Aid Society on Oct. 31, 1958. Ida Hayes was divorced with children to support when she began at Indiana Legal Services on Nov. 22, 1966. Today, the two women serve as office managers, bookkeepers, secretaries, problem-solvers and attorney cheerleaders while, combined, they have worked in legal aid for more than 110 years.
“I had never been inclined to the law,” Leverenz said, recalling her first reaction to being offered a position at ILAS. “It really sounded interesting. I really have not regretted a day of it.”
Starting the week of Thanksgiving, Hayes was also unsure what to expect at her new job. But it sounded exciting, it was something different and she was always looking to learn new things.
“It was very interesting,” she said of her time at ILS. “It’s been a very interesting career.”
During their tenures, the two women have witnessed the swings in national policies to address the poor. The 1960s launched the War on Poverty, which created new programs and agencies designed to lift up the underprivileged, but by the 1990s, reforming welfare to limit public assistance was viewed as the best way to push people into self-sufficiency.
Presidents were elected, wars were fought, the economy boomed and crashed, minorities, women, gays and lesbians struggled for equality, astronauts landed on the moon and computers became an indispensable part of daily life.
As the world changed, Leverenz and Hayes remained constant. They turned on the office lights, typed filings for court, filled out intake forms when new clients arrived seeking help and offered advice to the attorneys and managing attorneys. Even now, they come to work every day and shoulder their part of the heavy load that is legal aid.
Hayes, born in Arkansas and raised in Gary, was attracted to the work because it serves the impoverished and helps them gain stability.
“I like helping people,” Hayes said. “This is the best place to be because you actually meet the lowest on the totem pole. (They have) no way to go but up.”
Having grown up in the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis and spending her summers at church camp, Leverenz was overwhelmed by what she saw. The hardships faced by the women and their children coming for legal aid caused her to cry every night at home.
Eventually Leverenz came to realize poverty has deep roots and long branches. Families with too few resources need many kinds of support, guidance and assistance. She could best help them by being part of the legal team working to resolve the clients’ legal problems.
Leverenz admitted that even after 60 years, the job can still be emotionally draining. But, she said, “It makes you feel so good when you are able to help someone.”
Keeping the wheels greased
Hayes began at ILS as an investigator, going into homes and checking with employers to verify the clients were income eligible to receive legal assistance. Then she was sent on reconnaissance missions into the Marion County courtrooms, where the ILS attorneys practiced. She observed proceedings and sat with clerks to learn what the judges wanted.
After a colleague gave her an instruction book and showed her how to hold her hands over the keys, Hayes taught herself how to type. She did legal research for the attorneys and typed the motions and pleadings for court in the style individual judges wanted.
Hayes was a friendly face during the time ILS was unpopular in the legal community. Even some of the judges were skeptical of the nonprofit, believing the agency was taking clients from attorneys. She remembered one judge — she declined to give his name — who helped her, taught her how to prepare filings and was always glad to see her. But when he learned she was from ILS, he uttered a word that good taste keeps from being printed in a newspaper.
When Roderick Bohannan joined ILS in 1976 right after law school, Hayes called him to her office. She then took him to the courthouse, where they spent a day visiting all the courtrooms ILS attorneys practiced in and introducing him to the clerks. As he began working with clients and going to court, Hayes would review and check his documents before he filed them.
Bohannan is still there, tallying 41 years. He called Hayes “the fixer.” Whatever needs to be done, whether it’s getting a copier repaired, paying a bill or staying current on changes in the law, she’s on top of it.
“She’s the grease for the wheel,” Bohannan said. “She knows the office and she knows the community.”
Over at ILAS, Leverenz maintained the office when the nonprofit was just two part-time attorneys and a general counsel. She answered the phone, greeted the clients, opened the mail, kept the books, typed the motions and pleadings for court and used her shorthand skills to take the minutes at the board meetings.
In recent years, Leverenz’s job has become more focused on finances. As support from United Way of Central Indiana has declined, ILAS has had to cover the shortfall by ramping up its fundraising efforts and soliciting more grants. Leverenz tracks the money, keeps an accounting in QuickBooks and prepares the paper for annual audits.
Richard Young, partner at Kightlinger & Gray LLP, worked for Leverenz in 1974 when he was still a law student doing an internship at ILAS. He met with clients who wanted to file for divorce and collected the basic information the attorneys would need. Sometimes he would accompany an attorney to court.
Young went into private practice after graduation but returned to ILAS to serve on its board. Now president of the board, Young has more of an appreciation for all that Leverenz brings to the organization. She has a vast institutional knowledge of ILAS, he said, and is devoted to the nonprofit. Plus, he said, she is among the nicest people anyone could meet.
Pointing out that legal aid attorneys do hard work for little pay, Young said, “It’s nice to have somebody like Jackie making a difficult job easier.” Then he mused, “I don’t know how many people we’re going to have to hire to replace her.”
Not leaving just yet
To get some personal relief from the exhaustion of legal aid, Leverenz and Hayes have their own escapes.
Leverenz loses herself in books and travel, having taken countless vacations to Florida for deep sea fishing and visits to Disney World. Hayes designs and sews clothes, upholsters furniture and cooks, hosting large Sunday dinners and inviting ILS attorneys over for Thanksgiving.
Both women have enjoyed their careers in legal aid. The work is engaging and challenging, they said, and the people are enjoyable. Even so, neither thought they would still be on the job so long after they celebrated their 65th birthdays.
Asked if she was thinking about working another 51 years, Hayes laughed. Then, possibly with her tongue in her cheek, she said, “I’m getting ready to get out of here soon as I can get everybody straight. Once I get them straight, I’m gone.”
Leverenz is toying with the idea of reducing her hours and spending more time away from the office. Over the years, she has fielded a couple of job offers; one time a judge wanted her to join his staff. But, she explained, she decided to stay because she felt more was being done at legal aid to help people with their everyday problems.
From her time at ILAS, Leverenz has learned that whether she is there or not, the work will continue.
“There (are) always going to be people out there that will need us,” she said. “There is definitely a need.”•