Fifty years as attorney, community advocate have left an impression
When Cedarburg attorney Donald Levy was honored by the Marquette University Law School last month with the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, he was characteristically self-effacing.
As he took the podium, Levy said he was humbled by the honor, “especially since my greatest achievement was probably being fortunate enough to have lived a long, healthy life.”
Law School Dean Joseph Kearney noted much more than longevity earned Levy recognition for his 50-year career as a practicing attorney.
After earning his law degree from Marquette in 1960, he joined his older brother Lowell in a practice that became known as Levy & Levy.
Over time, Don Levy became one of Wisconsin’s most respected family attorneys. He was first listed in America’s Best Lawyers in 1987, an accolade he has retained every year since.
Levy has lectured on family law before the Wisconsin Bar Association and is a fellow and past president of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Levy said he takes the greatest pride in the help he has provided clients over the years.
“A lawyer’s job is to help people who need it most. One of the greatest things about having a practice in a small town, and the feeling that is most gratifying, is to run into people in the grocery store or at a restaurant who will come up to me and say, ‘You really changed my life,’” he said.
“Of course, on the flip side, I have probably rubbed some people the wrong way. When I see them approaching, I cross to the other side of the street.”
As consuming as his law practice has been, Levy has also made time to serve the community.
Levy is a founding member of the Cedarburg-Grafton Rotary Club and the Cedarburg Landmark Preservation Society. He also serves on the Cedarburg Performing Arts Center and the Columbia-St. Mary’s Foundation, and led the campaign to restore Cedarburg’s Rivoli Theater.
“I think it is critical for people to give back to their community,” Levy said.
He said selfless service may run contrary to the popular stereotype attorneys must endure, but it is not atypical of his profession.
“I think it is fair to say lawyers get a bad rap. If you look at the boards of directors of most non-profits and community service organizations, you will find a lot of lawyers doing a lot of good,” Levy said.
With five decades in the legal profession, Levy is very much a fixture in Cedarburg, a community that has turned devotion to tradition into a marketable commodity.
It seems like a perfect fit for Levy, who has an abiding love for old things.
The law firm’s offices are in the 100-year-old Hilgen house on Columbia Road. The building effortlessly blends a modern legal practice with the ambience of a museum.
The walls of a first-floor conference room are covered with antique sleds Levy has collected over the years.
“They are hard to find. People like to hold on to them and bring them out to show under the family Christmas tree,” he said.
But it is in the third-floor library that the feeling of hallowed halls takes hold.
Amid the shelves of leather-bound law books are a menagerie’s worth of hunting trophies, from snarling lions to a snapping crocodile.
Levy looks perfectly at ease in the setting, and it not ashamed to admit it.
“I never aspired to politics or to becoming a judge. I find satisfaction in helping the people of this community and in making this a better place to live, even if it means being a big fish in a small pond,” he joked.
Levy said he has always enjoyed working with his brother, and the family relationship expanded even further when his son Ben joined the practice in 1988.
“I never pushed him into law because my experience is that never works. I have enjoyed working with my son and being able to solve people’s problems together,” Levy said.
Levy grew up on his grandfather’s dairy farm in Mequon, and that experience played a big role pointing him to the legal profession.
“I always liked the law, and I was certain I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life milking cows on the farm,” he said.
During his remarks at the Marquette award ceremony, Levy quoted from a writing assignment his grandson Brian Vogt turned in at Parkview Elementary School in Cedarburg several years ago. The assignment — write his own obituary.
The youngster, reflecting on his imagined life in a third-person narrative, wrote: “Throughout his career, his goal in life was to be almost exactly
like his grandfather, Donald Levy, working hard and making a difference in the world.”
Levy then quoted late Marquette basketball coach Al Maguire — “My life has been seashells and balloons.”
CEDARBURG ATTORNEY Donald Levy was honored recently by Marquette University Law School for his 50-year career in law. Levy said he has found satisfaction serving the community and helping clients in their time of need. Photo by Mark Jaeger