Sept. 19, 2018 – Dean Dietrich has a vision: that Marathon County becomes the best place to raise children.
To that end, he’s bolstered Marathon County Early Years Coalition – a partnership of local organizations dedicated to ensuring a great start for the county’s young children. Dietrich is chair of the coalition – and plans to become even more involved.
For his efforts over a long career – in his community and in the legal profession – Dietrich is the recipient of the Wisconsin Law Foundation's 2018 Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award. The award is given for a lifetime of service to the profession and community and was presented at the 2018 Fellows of the Wisconsin Law Foundation Annual Recognition Dinner in Milwaukee on Sept. 13. Read more about the event.
Dietrich said that receiving the award is a very humbling experience. “All I know is that I get great joy out of doing things for the Bar, doing what I can to support attorneys, and for helping communities,” he said.
Joseph Troy, a Foundation board member and chair of the Awards Committee, said Dietrich was chosen for his efforts to help lawyers advocate for justice while maintaining a high standard of professionalism and fairness. “His contributions have enhanced the ethical, responsible practice of law in Wisconsin,” he said.
‘The One You Want on Your Side’
Dietrich’s leadership, say those who know him, spans not just the legal profession, but also his community.
org sgreen wisbar Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
“In everything he does, he is a leader and an advocate, and his love of community and profession is inseparable,” said Stewart Etten of Ruder Ware in Wausau, who nominated Dietrich for the award.
“I’ve done some things in my community that I’m proud of,” Dietrich said – including serving in the leadership of many community organizations. “And, I teach people how to be good civic board members.”
Over the years, he has led or served on the boards of Aspirus Wausau Hospital, Inc.; Camp Manito-wish; Marathon County Start Right Program; Marathon County Youth Hockey Association; Wausau Early Bird Rotary Club; and Wisconsin Public Radio Association.
“Dean’s leadership is sought because he takes the time to make a difference,” Etten said, “and because he is a tireless advocate of causes he believes in. He is the one you want on your side.”
Dietrich has been recognized by organizations outside of the legal profession. In 2015, he became the first male recipient of the ATHENA Leadership Award, from the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, for enhancing leadership programs for women.
“It’s yet another example of how Dean helps others achieve their fullest potential,” said Brad Karger, administrator of Marathon County, who has worked closely with Dietrich for more than 26 years.
“What stands out about Dean is the time he devotes to the development of others, and providing assistance where ever he can,” said Joanne Kelly, executive director of United Way of Marathon County.
“I guess there’s a theme here of teaching that I don’t often recognize,” Dietrich said. “I certainly get enjoyment out of something that is making our community or our lawyers better.”
In his practice in municipal law – for Marathon County, among others, Dietrich ‘s advice “typically tracks toward what is really in the best interest of the county’s residents, and how they are best served,” Karger said. “It is a ‘people-first’ approach that has won him the admiration of many who see him as a problem solver with a heart.”
Wisconsin Law Foundation President Kevin Lonergan, left, introduces Dean Dietrich, right, as recipient of the Foundation’s Goldberg Award.
Two Passions Combined: Wisconsin Law Foundation
Dietrich is active not only in his community, but also within the leadership of the State Bar, including as current president of the Senior Lawyers Division, and in the past as treasurer of the State Bar and president of the Wisconsin Law Foundation 2008-14.
“I truly believe in what these organizations can do,” Dietrich said.
The Foundation, Dietrich said, combines two of his passions – making positive impacts and the legal profession. During his time as its president, Dietrich witnessed the organization’s growth – and a concurrent increase in its ability to assist people, organizations, and the profession.
“The Foundation’s programs are important for the future of the law profession and local communities,” Dietrich said. “For example, students participating in Mock Trial learn to be leaders and the importance of being involved in their community.”
Giving his speech during the event, Dean Dietrich talks about the importance of community involvement to the legal profession.
A Teacher of Ethics
Dietrich has made the strongest impact, says Kevin Lonergan, current president of the Wisconsin Law Foundation, in educating Wisconsin lawyers on the ethics and practice of law. “Dean has made us better lawyers and made Wisconsin a better place to practice law,” Lonergan said.
Dietrich has served for many years on the State Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee – including as its chair. He has written countless articles and participated as a speaker in innumerable CLE ethics programs.
The sense of fulfillment he receives from teaching ethics at first surprised him. “I don’t have a good explanation for that,” Dietrich said. “But I know that I’m helping lawyers to be better professionals.”
Dietrich receives a standing ovation as he returns to his table.
Ahead: No Ties or Early Morning Meetings
A 1977 graduate of Marquette University Law School, Dietrich worked for two years in Fennimore with Nick Kremer, a “highly respected municipal lawyer.” He then moved to Mulcahy and Wherry in its Wausau office. For the past 28 years, he has been with Ruder Ware.
His areas of practice include municipal and school law, employment law and labor relations, and professional responsibility and ethics.
“I learned a lot at all three firms,” he said.
Dietrich has just begun a new path – but don’t use the word “retirement.” “I’ve never been able to understand that word,” he said. Plus, that isn’t likely to happen, say those who know him. There’s just too much to do ahead.
But, nearing age 66 and after surviving a heart attack, a stroke, and cancer in the past couple of years, he's making plans to spend more time with family and in service to the community he loves.
He took his first steps toward these new goals in the first week of September when began his new firm, Dietrich and VanderWaal in Wausau, with partner and shareholder Shane VanderWaal.
“My goals are to not have a meeting before 7 a.m., to not wear a tie, and to read fewer emails when I’m traveling,” Dietrich said.
He will also have more time for his passions: to focus his efforts on the Early Years Coalition in Marathon County. “If I could stop being active (as a lawyer) and just do that, I would. But being a lawyer is who I am, too,” Dietrich said.