Walter J. Simhauser died on January 16, 2015, in Springfield at age 96. He was retired from a long career as a lawyer in Springfield and central Illinois.
He is survived by his wife, Jean, his brother, John Simshauser, son, Val Simhauser (Patty Hagner), stepchildren Kathy (Richard) Crider, Karen (Carl) Schmidt, Brian Berg, and Melanie Berg, nephews Andy and Peter Simshauser, niece Kitty Lavin, other nieces and nephews, grandchildren Matt (Amanda) Simhauser and Mark Simhauser (fiancée, Caitlin Dungan), Ali Berg, Anna and Nate Schmidt, Kyle and Adam Crider, and great-granddaughter, Ava Simhauser.
Mr. Simhauser was Springfield’s City Attorney from 1955 to 1959 and from 1963 to1969. He was also the city attorney for Leland Grove, aiding in its founding in 1950 and serving until 1990, and for Jerome, Southern View, Grandview, Auburn, and Chatham.
He was born in May 1918 in Bloomington, Illinois, the oldest son of Val M. Simhauser and Daisy (Burke) Simhauser.
He was predeceased by both parents, and by a brother, Judge Louis E. Simhauser. His father was a railroad machinist who moved on to self-employment after the 1922 strike at the Chicago & Alton yards in Bloomington, and who also served several terms as a Bloomington alderman. His mother was a teacher and a graduate of the State Normal School. Education, books, and reading were integral parts of life in the family’s Bloomington household. He and his two brothers became lawyers.
Mr. Simhauser finished at Bloomington High School in 1936, where he also played baseball and swam competitively, and began college that fall at Illinois Wesleyan University. After two years at Wesleyan, he pursued his interests in engineering for a short time at Iowa State. Money was tight, and he obtained a job as a land surveyor, a skill that took him to western Kansas and finally brought him to Springfield, for a job as a mapmaker with the old Bureau of Highways.
With no way to pursue engineering in Springfield, he turned to the now-defunct Lincoln College of Law, formerly at Second and Adams Streets in Springfield, starting there in the fall of 1941. After the Pearl Harbor attack, he volunteered for service. His notice to report was very slow to arrive, telling him to report for active duty in the Army Air Corps in Boca Raton, Florida, in June 1943, just as he finished his second year of law school.
After completing a succession of aviation cadet training schools, including a stint at Yale University, Lieutenant Simhauser found himself headed to the Philippines, to head a maintenance squadron for P-38 fighters. Fighting in the Pacific was cut short in the summer of 1945, and after Japan’s surrender, he stayed in the Philippines for another year as a claims officer, to deal with reparations to the Filipino people for property commandeered by Allied forces.
He returned to Springfield in time for the start of his third year at Lincoln College of Law in the fall of 1946. He took and passed the Illinois bar exam and was licensed in 1948, even before finishing his final year of law school, 1947-1948. In 1952, he ran as the Democrat candidate for Sangamon County State’s Attorney. About that time, he started to share offices with Art Fitzgerald, as did another young lawyer and war veteran, Bob Heckenkamp. That was the genesis of the law partnership between Mr. Simhauser and Mr. Heckenkamp that spanned 5 decades and gave a start to numerous Springfield lawyers in generations that followed.
He married his long-time sweetheart, Mary Rodino, in August 1953. Their son, Val, was born in December 1954. After 33 years of marriage, Mary died in February 1987. In October 1988, he married Jean (Melvin) Berg, to begin an equally long and joyous marriage. He and Jean just celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary several months ago, and he credited Jean for his longevity.
He was an avid fly fisherman. Wyoming held a special allure for him, not only for its fishing streams but for its mountains, including the Grand Teton, which he climbed in1952. He was also an avid sailor, and spent many summers racing sailboats with his son on Lake Springfield and on other Midwestern lakes. Until recent years, he was often found on the golf courses, even on the hottest days.
Mr. Simhauser devoted over 50 years to the practice of law. Like other Springfield lawyers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he handled a wide variety of cases. He built a strong civil defense practice to go along with his municipal work. He was fair and forthright with clients, adversaries, and the bench, always earnest and diligent, and prompt to finish the job for his clients. He often counseled clients to avoid divisive fights, but never backed away from zealous advocacy. The appellate and Supreme Court reports show numerous instances where Walt Simhauser’s arguments became new law, especially in the areas of negligence and products liability. He was always soft-spoken, always a gentleman, and his word was something that everyone trusted.
Mr. Simhauser was a member of St. Agnes Catholic Church, and of the Sangamon County (President, 1978-79), Illinois State, and American Bar Associations, the Elks Club, the National Rifle Association, and other clubs and organizations.
Visitation: 10:30 am – 12:30 pm Thursday, January 22, 2015 at Blessed Sacrament Church.
Funeral Mass: 12:30 pm Thursday, January 22, 2015 at Blessed Sacrament Church with Reverend Jeff Grant officiating. Burial will follow at Camp Butler National Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. John’s Hospice.
Date: Thursday, January 22, 2015
Time: 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
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