Art Nordhoff: A legacy of law

Nic Antaya/The Herald
Then-County Attorney Art Nordhoff writes a letter at Nordhoff Law Office in Jasper on Dec. 20. Art served as the county attorney for 27 years. "Being a county attorney means you're in on an awful lot of stuff that's going on around there," he said. "You're really in the know what's going on, and I'll miss that part. I'll miss the friendships I've made."


A legacy of law runs through both sides of Art Nordhoff Jr.’s family.

Nordhoff was a longtime attorney of Dubois County, just like his father and uncle Clemence Nordhoff. The younger Nordhoff returned to Dubois County in 1967 to join his dad and uncle’s law office.

But his mother’s side of the family also has a legacy of serving in law and military fields.

“It’s an interesting family,” Nordhoff said with a chuckle.. “So I’ve got law enforcement on both sides.”

His dad, Arthur Nordhoff Sr., who was from Dubois, was admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, which means he could argue cases in front of the highest court in the country. The document showing that certification hangs on the wall at Nordhoff’s law office, next to his Uncle Clem’s law degree. The two owned the law office, Nordhoff Law Office, before him.

The elder Nordhoff served a two-year term as state representative, from 1935 to 1936, before he became county attorney. He held that position until 1945, when Herb Thyen became mayor of Jasper. Thyen was one of the founders of Kimball International, and Art Sr. had worked for Thyen at the company.

“So the mayor asked my dad if he would become city attorney,” Art Jr. said. “And dad thought there was a conflict between serving the city and county. So he resigned as county attorney.” Art Sr. was city attorney for as long as Thyen was mayor: six years.

Uncle Clem was the elder Nordhoff’s partner at the Jasper law firm. He was already county attorney when Art. Jr. came back to Jasper in 1967. As he got older, the younger Nordhoff became deputy county attorney under him.

“He went to Florida in the winter and to Wisconsin for a month in the summer,” Art Jr. said. “So I would take over [county business] at those times.” When Uncle Clem died in 1991, the younger Nordhoff took over the county attorney duties, since he already knew the ropes.

Robert Nordhoff, Art Jr.’s grandfather, was also in the legal realm, serving as Dubois County’s sheriff in the early 1900s. As a result, his grandparents moved from Dubois to Jasper.

“At that time, the sheriff’s family lived in the jail. A section of their house was next to the jail, and you could walk from the house into the jail. They were all one building,” Art Jr. said. “So my dad and Clemmie were raised in the jail.”

After serving two terms as sheriff, Robert became the security officer at the French Lick Hotel, and then a trooper with the Indiana State Police. He moved up in ranks and became a detective with the ISP, and was assigned to the force that hunted American gangster John Dillinger.

“He spent a lot of time in Lake County, because that was where Dillinger was a lot; he was in Lake County and Chicago,” Art Jr. said. “And back then, the police from Illinois and Indiana could go across county lines, and they would. Grandpa’s partner was killed in a gunfight with some of Dillinger’s gang; so he was in gunfights.”

The Nordhoff family stayed in Jasper the entire time, living in the house that still exists at Ninth and Main streets.

In the mid-1930s, Indiana started the excise police, and Robert was moved to that force. “He was the commander of Southern Indiana, and his office was in Vincennes,” Art Jr. said. “I remember as a little kid, I used to love it because I could drive over with him.”

When Robert retired from the police, he became a Justice of the Peace, before passing away in the mid-1950s.

Art’s mother and maternal uncle had their own legal history.

Wilma (Miller) Nordhoff, who was from Huntingburg, worked for the Evansville Courier when she got out of high school, before she went to Washington, D.C., to work for the Internal Revenue Service in a building next door to the White House. “She was there for quite a while,” Art Jr. said.

After that, she worked at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was called the Bureau of Prohibition at that time. “This was during Prohibition,” Art Jr. said. She was moved to Louisville to become a bureau officer, dealing with moonshine cases in Kentucky.

“I’ve got pictures of her in the hills of Kentucky in front of stills they captured,” Art Jr. said.

She quit the job to marry Art Sr. in 1939.

Art Jr.’s uncle, Austin Miller, went to West Point and served in World War II; he was a quartermaster for the Seventh Armored Division for the Army.

“He was responsible for all the supplies that went into the Battle of the Bulge,” Art Jr. said. “That’s why I go to Belgium [to visit]. I go to his headquarters there, and followed where they went. That’s my interest in it.”

As a result, Art Jr. belongs to several of the armored divisions, and has taken veterans back there, to walk the grounds on which they fought.

Austin was the deputy commander of Fort Knox after the war, from which he retired as a colonel.

Austin’s son, Austin “Buddy” Miller, was a West Point graduate and four-star general and commander. After being a paratrooper with the Army, he became a major, working at the Pentagon. He left that position suddenly to the confusion of his family.

“He had moved into the CIA” and the family didn’t know it for a long time, Art Jr. recalled. “So he had to retire from the Army to go to the CIA.”

He eventually retired from the CIA, and died four years ago.

Buddy’s son is Austin Scott Miller, who is a U.S. Army general who currently serves as the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. He previously served as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, located at Fort Bragg, from March 30, 2016, to August 2018.

As for Art Jr., he wanted to follow in his Uncle Austin’s footsteps and go to West Point.

“My mother said no,” Art Jr. said. “At that point, I was in high school and going steady with Patty. My mother said, ‘I can’t let you take a wife onto an Army post, moving all the time. That’s no life for a family.”

So he let that dream go.

“You don’t fight your mother,” he said.

Instead, Art Jr. went to higher education, earning a degree in accounting from the University of Notre Dame and law degree from Indiana University-Bloomington. He and Patty married after he earned his accounting degree.

“I just loved the Army, and I never was in,” he said. “We weren’t in any wars by the time I started school; the Korean War was over by then. By the time I got out of law school, we were in battles [with the Vietnam War]. But I had two kids by then.”

He worked as a tax attorney at Arthur Andersen in Indianapolis for two and a half years before coming back to Jasper in 1967 to practice law with his father and uncle, who ran Nordhoff Law Office and were getting older. Uncle Clem was county attorney at the time.

“My mother encouraged me to come back,” Art Jr. said. “My dad was having health problems. They needed someone to help take the pressure off.”

Art Sr. was a longtime attorney for the Jasper school system. So when the younger Nordhoff came back, he started stepping in to work with the Jasper schools as well.

“That’s how I got into it, because of my dad,” Art Jr. said. “He was slowing down a lot at that point.”

He also worked with the county school system, since he knew the county superintendent, Woody Buechler, well.

The other district in the county at the time, Huntingburg schools, had as its attorney Norb Schneider, who is father to the Southwest Dubois Schools’ attorney Phil Schneider.

In 1968, the state forced Dubois County to reorganize its school system. Art Jr. worked on that as the attorney. The county ended up with the current four districts. Art Jr. represented three of them, and still does: Greater Jasper, Southeast Dubois and Northeast Dubois; he also represents the North Spencer School District. He plans to continue working with the school districts.

Now at 78 years old, Art Jr. has stepped down as county attorney, a position he held for 27 years. He continues working with the schools. But he needed to let go of the county position so that he could keep up with the clients at the law office. Over the years, the county duties have increased substantially, he said.

But it was hard to let go of the county position.

“I hate giving up the county,” he said. “The schools and the county have been my life. But time-wise, I had to do something.”

The last week of December found Art Jr. and his law office staff going through the decadesworth of documents in his office that have to do with county affairs. He has been passing those important documents on to the new county attorney, Greg Schnarr.

And he has let Schnarr know that he can call anytime with questions.

“There will be some things that Greg will not know yet,” Art Jr. said. “So I’ve told him and the people at the courthouse to feel free to call with questions. I’m willing to help.”

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