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In our local history series, Sense of Place, we explore the lives of people and places that have shaped our modern local culture. Generational businesses are less common now than in days past, but they have played an important role in the establishment of many communities around the region. KSMU’s Emma Wilson went to Bolivar to visit a law firm that has stayed in the family for a century.
“My name is Kerry D. Douglas. I’m a third generation attorney in Bolivar.”
The office of Douglas, Haun, and Heidemann sits just off the Bolivar square, in easy reach of the Polk County courthouse. It’s the same building in which Kerry’s grandfather, Thomas Douglas, opened his practice in 1912. He was a general lawyer, mostly dealing with local issues of property and other common legal concerns. When his son, Elvin Douglas Sr., joined him in the early 1930s, the firm became Douglas & Douglas. Kerry Douglas says he had no thought of doing anything else when it came time for him to go to school.
“I just lived with it all my life, I mean, my grandfather, I had two uncles who were lawyers, I’ve an older brother who was a lawyer. I remember sitting around the Thanksgiving or Christmas table and the only discussions were law. The men dominated the conversation with their observations and comments and in many cases, arguments.”
Douglas joined the law firm in 1972. He says his son, Patrick, was the ninth Douglas to attend the University of Missouri Law School, and is now the fourth generation to practice at the Bolivar firm. They celebrated their centennial with a picnic on the Bolivar square Saturday.
Kerry shows me an old photo of his grandfather sitting at his desk as it was in 1927. Many elements suggest the time period, not least of which is a large calendar hanging behind him. There is also an old township map, a candlestick phone, and a man in bib overalls who may have been delivering the coal. While many things have changed dramatically at the firm and in the Bolivar community at large, Douglas says the attorneys there still work to maintain the legacy of his father and grandfather.
“When you are a multi-generational practitioner, as I am, and your grandfather and your father were both well known as smart, dedicated, honest lawyers who did the best they could for their clients. That’s a tradition you feel an inherent force to not let that tradition go, and I think I can say the same for my son, Pat.”
Douglas says he’d like to see the firm last for another 100 years.
“I’m looking at all my grand-daughters in the hopes that one of them will become the fifth generation. I would love to have a granddaughter go into law and carry on the tradition.”
To see early photos of Bolivar and the photo of Thomas Douglas, you can find this story on the Sense of Place page at www.ksmu.org.
For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Emma Wilson.