Impacting the Law
The Kepler family has made an extraordinary impact on the UW College of Law.
The Kepler Chair in Law and Leadership was established by the Paul Stock Foundation in partnership with the Kepler family to honor lawyers Charles, his daughter Loretta, and his nephew Courtney and their contributions to the UW College of Law and the practice of law in general.
The Kepler family also established the Kepler Fund for Professional Education, which supports student legal clinics. These clinics allow law students to practice under the supervision of faculty while still in school. Caseloads are actual cases, and it is not a simulation. Clinics include defender aid, legal services, domestic violence, and prosecution assistance, as well as practicums in estate planning and international law/social justice.
The Keplers have also made significant gifts in support of the Loretta Kepler Scholarship, which supports women first-year law students, and the Brimmer Legal Education Center.
Charles, Ursula, and Loretta have made a timeless impact on the University of Wyoming College of Law, but who were they?
An adventurer, scholar, and preeminent lawyer, Charles was known as Kep. He and his brother Forrest, known as Frosty, grew up in Cheyenne. Kep met Ursula, his future wife, while still in high school, but they didn’t marry until 1944 between Kep’s stints overseas serving in World War II. He enrolled at UW in 1940 but did not earn his JD in law until 1948, after receiving a Purple Heart—wounded by a sniper in France—and the rank of captain in the U.S. Army. He went on to earn his master of laws at the University of Michigan and then served as a business law professor at UW and the University of Oklahoma.
He and Ursula then moved to Cody, which he called “the best place in the world,” to work for Husky Oil Company. In 1960, Kep joined Alan and Milward Simpson to form a law practice, where his daughter Loretta, “his favorite partner,” would eventually join him for a few years.
During his working years, Kep taught in the UW Law School and served as president of the Wyoming State Bar and was chair or a member of many professional boards and commissions—including the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the State Board of Bar Examiners, among many others. He was named Super Lawyer and a Best Lawyer in the Nation.
Throughout his life, Kep gave his time and his resources. He actively contributed to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Northwest Community College, and the formation of the Cody Hospital District, and through his work with the Paul Stock Foundation, Kep was instrumental in awarding hundreds of scholarships and grants to UW students. He was also instrumental in building the Paul Stock Aquatic Center at the Rec Center in Cody, where later he would accompany Ursula each morning as she swam.
His advice to the Law School graduating class of 2007 was this: “If the judge gives you 20 minutes, take 10, and if the judge gives you 30 minutes, take 15.”
Athletic and talented, Ursula also grew up in Cheyenne, where she worked in the family bakery, participated in sports and orchestra, and dressed as Annie Oakley for parades. She earned her bachelor’s at UW in 1944, and then she and Kep married. Exactly 11 years to the day after they were married, their daughter Loretta was born.
Ursula played piano and church organ and led the choir. She also played flute, violin, harmonica, and anything else that made music. She led the Cody Girl Scouts, loved to ski at Sleeping Giant, and believed strongly in being able to swim, and so under her tutelage, generations of Wyomingites learned to swim. Ursula reportedly was still perfecting a new breast stroke well into her 80s.
She called Kep “Mr. K,” and they traveled to all seven continents. She finished his stories, and he quietly listened to hers.
Their charming and gifted daughter Loretta excelled in her professional life. After earning her bachelor’s in biology at UW, she went on to receive her JD in law and practiced with her father in Cody. She then earned her master’s in tax law from New York University and worked for law firms in Seattle until becoming a benefits attorney at Boeing. While at Boeing, she and her team successfully argued Egelhoff v. Egelhoff before the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed federal rights over state rights. Afterward, she was known to have said, “I was THAT close to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” She married Dan Illich, a friend since high school, and they have a son Matt and a daughter Claire.
We mourn the loss of these three extraordinary individuals. Loretta died tragically of ovarian cancer in 2010 at age 55. Charles died in 2012 and was followed within the month by Ursula. They were both 89.
For more on the Keplers’ gifts and their impact on students, go to http://youtu.be/Vss4VFlchJs.