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DePaul Willette, 87

Oct 2, 2016

DePaul Willette

Olivia DePaul Willette, a dedicated Minnesota lawyer for 50 years, died at 87 on Sept. 24. Besides being in private practice in Olivia, he was a former district court judge and the executive secretary of the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards. DePaul was a past member of the Board of Governors of the Minnesota Bar Association and won the association’s award for professional excellence in 1987. He was a former dean of the Academy of Certified Trial Lawyers of Minnesota.

A kind and ethical man with a deep concern for the disadvantaged, he was a long-time volunteer with Legal Aid and served both Loaves and Fishes and Meals on Wheels. In 2008 he received the Fidelis Apparitor award for service and leadership at the legal community’s Red Mass at the College of St. Benedict. He and his first wife, Lois Remington Willette, helped found the Renville County Hospice during her final illness. The Willette Room in the new Renville County Hospital is named for them.

Above all, DePaul loved his big family, his church and the law. Next in line would be sweets of all kinds, loud and dramatic classical music, reading and golf. He treasured memories of playing the old course at St. Andrews and worked the water crew for the 3M golf championship.

DePaul was born Jan. 19, 1929, in Winnebago, Minn., to Donald and Florence Hynes Willette. They were a farm family, and he went to country school through eighth grade. He was valedictorian of the class of 1947 at Delavan High School and went on to St. John’s University.

Graduating during the Korean War, he was accepted into the Navy officers’ candidate program, then assigned to the USS Columbus in communications. His next post was with NATO in Naples, Italy, where he shared an apartment with other young officers and bought an MG to see Europe in his off-duty hours. He was always grateful that the Navy gave “a Minnesota farm kid” a chance to see the world. After his active duty, he remained in the reserves for 14 years, achieving the rank of Lt. Commander.

He was accepted by Georgetown University law school while still in the Navy, but he briefly considered making a career of the family farm and certified seed business instead. A hot August of baling hay prompted a last-minute call to Georgetown to tell them he was on his way. The G.I. Bill paid for law school, supplemented by a job in Hubert H. Humphrey’s Washington office.

His first law practice was in Blue Earth, but the bulk of his long legal career was in Olivia, first with Lauerman & Willette and finally as a litigator with Willette, Kraft, Walser, Nelson & Hettig. He was appointed a judge in the Eighth Judicial District by Gov. Rudy Perpich and served for five years before becoming restless at being bench-bound and returning to private practice.

DePaul was noted in western Minnesota for his trademark mutton chop whiskers, his expertise in ditch law, his quirky sense of humor, his willingness to always lend a hand, and his liberal leanings. A lifelong Democrat, he ran unsuccessfully for state representative in the 1960s.

In 1987, he married Judith Willis, moved to the Twin Cities and became executive secretary of the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, which monitors judges’ ethical conduct. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Lois, his parents and one brother, Mike, and sister-in-law Joie. He is survived by his wife, Judith Willis; children, Lisa (Scott) Habben, Paul (Heather), James (Kris), Willie, Sue (Adrian) Woolf, Pierre (Sheila), Brenda (Jim) Anderson and Eric (Elizabeth Roe); stepchildren, Katie (Jerry) Olson and Amy (Scott) Hess; 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Mary (Mark) Hughes and brothers, Pierre (Lorraine), Tom (Nancy) and Jan (Linda).

Funeral will be at 10 a.m., Oct. 3, 2016, at the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community, 2201 1st Ave. S., Minneapolis. Visitation at the church an hour earlier, and at Gill Brothers, 5801 Lyndale Ave. S., from 3-6 p.m. Sunday.

Memorials would be appreciated to St. John’s University or St. Stephen’s Human Services.