Bill Shaneyfelt: ‘Something was leading me here’

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Attorney Bill Shaneyfelt looks through files at his office in Jasper on Friday. Shaneyfelt retired from his personal practice on Dec. 31, but will continue to work part time for the Dubois County Prosecutor's Office's Child Support Division. He started working for the county in the spring of 1978. "It was just sheer luck," he said of getting the job. "Keeping it for 40 years wasn't. I'd like to think it was a little bit of me and the people I worked with." 

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Looking around Bill Shaneyfelt’s office at Shaneyfelt and Bohnenkemper Law Office, you’d be surprised to see no computer on his desk. You’d be even more surprised to learn he’s never had one there, nor does he have a smartphone, opting instead for a flip phone.

“I’m an old dinosaur,” the 66-year-old lawyer said with a laugh. “I am not of the internet age.”

Shaneyfelt admits the lack of technology is abnormal, even for someone of his age, and it’s part of the reason he decided it was time to retire at the end of 2018 after a 41-year law career in Dubois County.

What Shaneyfelt lacked in technological prowess, he made up for with knowledge about countless subjects that informed his law work and ensured that he gave his clients the best advice he could. In Shaneyfelt’s mind, part of being a good lawyer is knowing a little bit about a lot of subjects, and that belief showed in his practice.

“I’ve never met someone who knew so much about everything,” said Christine Golden, director of the Jasper Public Library, which Shaneyfelt represented from 2008 until his retirement. “I always felt comfortable that no matter the subject, he was leading (the library) the right way.”

Shaneyfelt said his depth of knowledge came in particularly handy with his municipal work for the Town of Ferdinand, the Jasper Public Library and the City of Cannelton. To be a good municipal lawyer, Shaneyfelt said, you have to know about all other types of law: real estate, personnel, financial, labor, you name it. Then, you have to see how those laws interact with municipal law.

“A municipal lawyer, to me, really has to be a jack of all trades,” Shaneyfelt said.

Shaneyfelt never expected to practice law in southern Indiana, much less in Jasper. In fact, when the Huntington native decided to become a lawyer in the eighth grade, he hadn’t even heard of Jasper.

Growing up near Fort Wayne, Shaneyfelt remembers hearing the names of southern Indiana towns like Oolitic and Loogootee — back then he pronounced it loo-goo-tee — and laughing. In college at Indiana State University, he remembers people groaning whenever Jasper was mentioned.

“I’m thinking holy smoke, Jasper must be nothing but a town full of (jerks),” he recalled. “I want to go there during the daylight and see what it’s like and get out of there. How could this place be that bad?”

Then, he met Linda Lueken, a Ferdinand woman in ISU’s education program. They married in Ferdinand in 1975 and spent the summer living in Dubois County where Shaneyfelt clerked for local lawyer Joe Verkamp. That’s when he got to know Jasper and the people. They weren’t jerks, he saw. They’re just well prepared and tend to win competitions, which is why so many of Shaneyfelt’s college classmates groaned at the mention of the town.

“They were groans of envy,” Shaneyfelt said.

After the summer of 1975, Bill and Linda moved to Detroit, where Bill pursued a his law degree at Detroit School of Law, now Michigan State University School of Law. As he was getting ready to graduate, Shaneyfelt got a call from Verkamp. One of the partners at the firm had died, and Verkamp wanted to know if Shaneyfelt was interested in the job.

Shaneyfelt doesn't use a computer for his work and has always printed out the files. "I'm an old dog," he said. "One of the things on my to-do list, to learn more about computers and the internet. I might even change my flip phone to a smart phone."

At the time, Shaneyfelt was clerking in a law office in Michigan while preparing to take the Michigan bar exam and practice law in that state. And Linda didn’t want to move back to Dubois County. But the more the couple thought about it, the more Dubois County seemed to be the place for them.

“There was just something about the little towns around here,” Shaneyfelt said. “I thought, ‘I think I would like it here. I think I would like the people here. I think I would fit in here.’”

He and Linda traveled down to Dubois County where Shaneyfelt interviewed for the position over dinner at the old Huntingburg Country Club. When they offered him the position, Shaneyfelt insisted on one concession: he could fail the Indiana Bar one time, and they’d hold the position for him. It turned out the concession wasn’t necessary. Shaneyfelt passed the exam on his first try.

Bill and Linda moved to Jasper in 1977, and Shaneyfelt took on his first client, the Dubois County Prosecutor’s Office Child Support Division. That office has been his longest continuous client, and he plans to continue representing them for a few more years.

“That’s not my idea, that’s Linda’s, and she’s always right,” he joked. “She just thought her father went down hill mentally when he retired cold turkey, and she doesn’t want that to happen to me.”

The Town of Ferdinand is his second longest continuous client. Shaneyfelt took over representing the town in 1979 when Joe Verkamp became Dubois County’s circuit court judge. Ferdinand Town Council President Ken Sicard wasn’t a huge Bill Shaneyfelt fan when he joined the town council in 1999. Before moving to Ferdinand, Sicard lived in St. Henry where he’d been involved with the formation of St. Henry’s Volunteer Fire Department. On the other side of that development sat Shaneyfelt, representing the Ferdinand Volunteer Fire Department. The two sides didn’t always see eye to eye.

“I came in [to the town council] with some suspicions,” Sicard said. “But I found out [Shaneyfelt] was just very dedicated to the town of Ferdinand.”

In the 20 years since, Sicard and Shaneyfelt formed a strong working relationship, with much of Sicard’s work for the town starting with a call to Shaneyfelt.

“He’s a good man,” Sicard said. “He knew his subject and was a good resource.”

Although Shaneyfelt is most known for his municipal work, which included representing the developer when Walmart came to town, his career also included private work, including real estate foreclosure work for Springs Valley Bank.

Looking back, Shaneyfelt said it feels like fate led him to Dubois County, beginning with his participation in the American Legion’s Boys State civics program in high school that took place at ISU. If not for that program, he said, he wouldn’t have attended ISU, he wouldn’t have met Linda, and he wouldn’t have ended up living and practicing law in Dubois County.

“I had to make all the decisions,” Shaneyfelt said. “But it just seems like something was leading me here.”

Overall, Shaneyfelt said he’s proud of his law career, but he doesn’t expect to miss it in retirement. At least, he said, he hopes he doesn’t.

“I’ve always thought that it’s time to retire when you don’t love your work anymore, and I’ve stopped looking forward to going to the office,” he said. “You also start to feel the finiteness of your own life.”

Shaneyfelt noted seeing more and more obituaries about people his age or younger. He’s also a grandfather. His daughter, Kara Dinh, lives in Texas with her husband, Dahn, and their son, Oliver. Those two factors played a large role in Shaneyfelt’s decision to retire.

Shaneyfelt may be retired, but he doesn’t plan to sit still. He and Linda plan to travel more, especially to visit Kara, and Shaneyfelt plans to read more, particularly histories.

And he wants to become more tech savvy in his retirement.

“I think that would be good,” he said. “I want to see if I can figure out the internet thing a little bit, maybe even trade in my flip phone for a smartphone.”




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