Firm Founders: Harold Stassen and Elmer Ryan ~ What is now the law firm of LeVander, Gillen & Miller, P.A. began in 1929 when two young attorneys, fresh out of law school at the University of Minnesota, hung their shingle outside a small office in the historic cattle town of South St. Paul. From this $25-per-month rented office, these two young men, Harold Stassen (a Republican) and Elmer Ryan (a Democrat), began their distinguished careers in law, politics, and public service.
In the years that followed, this small, unassuming law firm earned a distinctive reputation for leadership and commitment to public service by producing a United States Presidential candidate and one of the founders of the United Nations; two Minnesota Governors; a United States Senator; a United States Congressman; a Minnesota Legislator; two Minnesota Supreme Court Justices; a Chief Federal District Court Judge; and many other distinguished leaders and legal minds.
The firm’s commitment to public service began in 1934 when Elmer Ryan was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He would go on to represent Minnesota for three terms. Four years later, his partner and firm co-founder, Harold Stassen, ran for the state’s highest office – that of governor. Elected as Minnesota’s Governor at the age of 31, Stassen was known as the “Boy Governor” and is still the youngest state governor elected in our nation’s history.
In 1943, during his third term as Governor, Stassen voluntarily resigned his position to join the United States Navy and serve the country in World War II. During his tour of duty, Stassen served as Assistant Chief of Staff to the much-admired Admiral William (“Bull”) Halsey in the Pacific Theater, and was decorated for his outstanding service in rescuing American prisoners of war in Japanese war camps. As the war drew to a close, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Stassen as a United States delegate to the United Nations charter conference. Upon the war’s end, Stassen was named one of two outstanding delegates. Stassen played key roles in the development of the United Nations Charter and positioning of the United States as a world leader.
In 1948, Stassen ran a formidable campaign for President of the United States, but narrowly lost the national Republican Party nomination to Thomas E. Dewey. Stassen made another impressive run for President in 1952. Although unsuccessful in his bid for President, Stassen became a member of the Executive Cabinet as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Secretary of Peace.” In his lifetime, Stassen ran for President a total of 10 times in a quest to diversify public debate and enrich the marketplace of ideas.
Along come LeVander, Gillen and Miller ~ In 1935, Harold LeVander and Fallon Kelly joined the firm. Due to the obligations of the public offices held by Ryan and Stassen, LeVander and Kelly purchased the firm and changed its name to Kelly & LeVander. They expanded the firm in 1943 by hiring Art Gillen, a young attorney who had just been elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives while still in law school. In 1949, Gillen became a partner and the name of the firm changed to Kelly, LeVander & Gillen. Two years later, in 1952, Roger Miller joined the firm. While their former partners were making national and international history, Kelly, LeVander, Gillen, and Miller remained in Minnesota and built the law practice. Like their predecessors, Kelly, LeVander, Gillen, and Miller went on to lead illustrious careers in Minnesota law and public service.
Kelly practiced law with the firm until 1958 when he was appointed to the distinguished position of United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota. Similarly, LeVander practiced law with the firm until 1966 when he was elected Governor of Minnesota. LeVander served as Minnesota’s Governor from 1967 to 1971.
In 1970, LeVander, as Governor, had the distinct honor of appointing his former law partner, Fallon Kelly, to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Kelly served as a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court for 10 years.
At the end of his term as Governor in 1971, LeVander returned to lead the firm in the practice of law. LeVander (or “The Gov” as he was lovingly referred) practiced law with the firm for another 20 years prior to his death in 1992.
In 1990, the firm’s name changed to LeVander, Gillen & Miller, to reflect its history and establish a firm name that would endure into the future. Although the name changed, the tradition of public service and commitment to superior legal service continued. Like his former colleagues, Art Gillen served the citizens of Minnesota, both as a lawyer and as a lawmaker. During his career, Gillen served eight years in the Minnesota House of Representatives and another eight years in the Minnesota State Senate. Gillen remained with the firm for over 50 years until his retirement in 1995. Mr. Gillen died in 2005.
Roger Miller, who served as South St. Paul’s City Attorney for over 50 years, retired from the firm in 2007. His service and counsel to the city helped shape and develop South St. Paul from a booming stockyard town to an urban community. For over 55 years, Miller worked as an attorney at the firm, building the law firm and his reputation as a wise and formidable lawyer. Some of Miller’s most notable Minnesota Supreme Court cases involved the hostile South St. Paul stockyard protests in the 1960’s and the controversial placement of high voltage transmission lines in the 1970’s.
“He’s probably the smartest lawyer I’ve ever known,” Judge Paul Magnuson told Minnesota Lawyer in 2004. “I have never known a lawyer more dedicated to his clients.”
Under Miller’s guidance and leadership, the firm grew and flourished. Mr. Miller died in 2009, but his life’s work lives on through LeVander, Gillen & Miller.
The Tradition Continues ~ The firm’s founding members set a standard for quality service to our clients and to the community. With each new attorney, the firm has grown and flourished. In addition to those mentioned above, LeVander, Gillen & Miller is honored by its long list of distinguished alumni, including: David Durenberger, former United States Senator; Charles Stone, former Minnesota Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Tax Commissioner; Sylvester Olson, United Nations Economic Coordinator in Korea; the Honorable Paul Magnuson, Senior Judge and former Chief Judge of the United States District Court (D. Minn); and the Honorable Paul Anderson, former associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
As leaders in the legal profession, attorneys at the firm are named in Minnesota Law and Leading Attorneys, and are regularly recognized among the “Who’s Who,” “Super Lawyers” and “Rising Stars” in Minnesota’s Law & Politics Magazine. In addition, the firm has attorneys licensed to practice in various states throughout the country, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts.
In 2014, the firm proudly celebrated its 85th Anniversary, placing it among the oldest law firms in Minnesota. This longevity is undoubtedly attributable to the firm’s reputation for providing expert legal advice and counsel, superior client service, and experienced advocacy – core values that have come to epitomize the law firm of LeVander, Gillen & Miller, P.A.