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May 25, 2005

LIFE LESSONS: Keep your nose to the grindstone…then go climb something! says Jim Harrang ’51

Keep your nose to the grindstone . . .
then go climb something.

by Eliza Schmidkunz
On a fresh, pretty morning close to the end of spring semester, a few haggard-looking law students sit in the comfortable, calming atmosphere of the James P. Harrang Student Center. Outside the windows, the law school’s iconic basketball hoop stands forlorn and alone.

In sharp contrast, the walls of the room portray vigorous and risky outdoor action.

On the center’s east wall, four photographic prints, taken seconds apart, show a raft overturning in northwestern California’s Salmon River while running Bloomer Falls. Next to it, another raft traverses Widowmaker Rapids on southeastern Oregon’s wild Owyhee. On the west wall, a photograph at French Pass near Dhalagheri in Nepal looks toward Tibet. Next to that, climbers reach one of the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca range in the northern Peruvian Andes.

What’s going on here? A vigorous and smiling lawyer draped with rappelling gear looks straight at the watcher normally one of the haggard law students in an explanatory photograph by the sink. It’s Jim Harrang, Class of 1951, the human subject in most of the seven large-format framed photographs hanging in the law school’s student lounge and the man whose firm Eugene’s largest donated $100,000 to build and furnish it.

Harrang believes, as it says beneath the picture, that we can achieve excellence in the practice of law while also realizing our passion for life outside the law. He has lived by those words.

Jim Harrang, shown above on a tough 25 mile stretch of California’s Salmon River, is no slouch. He climbed Mt. Hood on his eightieth birthday two years ago. He climbed Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro on his seventieth. Harrang has climbed all of the peaks in Oregon and Washington and rafted the rivers of Oregon and Idaho. The trim athlete with penetrating blue eyes still works mornings before he goes on his daily run at the UO – and he is still chairman of the board of the Eugene firm he founded 47 years ago, Harrang Long, Gary Rudnick P.C.

The son of Norwegian immigrants, he grew up near Sweet Home in Foster, Oregon where his father was the proprietor of the town’s general store and Fourth Class post office. Young Jim explored the hills around his hometown on skis made by his brother out of local ash. The heel was loose on them so we couldn’t turn, Harrang said. We’d go straight down the hill. You’d jump out of them if you were going too fast.

He settles in for an interview early in May in his downtown office’s large conference room. The room is dominated by a spreading maple outside the window, its spring leaves tinting the morning light a clear green. Harrang apologizes for his vice a midmorning cup of coffee which, in a most un-Norwegian like way, he didn’t start drinking until late in life. He nods towards the tree and says, You can almost believe you’re in the country.

We live in a recreational Shangri-La, he said. You miss a lot if you don’t take advantage of it.

Jim Harrang simply loved to ski. When World War II started, he left Oregon State College for the white camouflage and white skis of the army’s 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colorado, training at 9,200 feet in the mountains southwest of Denver. The months passed and no action. By 1944, Harrang said, we felt we were sitting out the war you weren’t allowed to transfer out, except to the paratroops or the Air Force, which I was just about to do.

But by November of that year he found himself in Italy, serving with the Tenth, a division that suffered a high casualty rate driving the Germans out of the Apennine Mountains to the Po Valley

Before going to Italy, Harrang got a lucky break. My first sergeant hated doing his morning report. You had to account for everyone and everything. He found out I could do this, so I was transferred from scout to company clerk which may be why I’m alive today.

The Second World War was the last necessary war and I never questioned serving in it, Harrang said, but I’ve been opposed to every war since Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

After VE day in 1945, Harrang came home to Foster on a thirty-day leave. Shortly thereafter, the 10th Mountain was deactivated and his war was over. What next?

I had the federal and state GI Bill, he said, so in fall 1946, he entered the UO, finished his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and walked across the street to the law school. I thought it would be interesting to see what the law was all about.

The law school experienced an explosion in enrollment about that time, mostly due to ex-GIs like Harrang. In 1944, at the height of the war, no one graduated. In 1948, 127 men and two women enrolled as first year students.

The law school required a C grade point average and three years of college for admission.

It was a lot easier to get into then. Under Dean Hollis, it wasn’t any easier to get through, Harrang said.

Studying for the bar was a do-it-yourself project. The library kept a collection of bar exam questions and, in the afternoon, two other guys and I would meet to discuss how we’d answer them, Harrang said. There was lots of camaraderie.

The informal sessions paid off. Not only did the three pass the bar, they all went on to lead Pacific Northwest law firms; Vernon Gleaves in Eugene (Gleaves Swearingen) and Irwin Landerholm in Vancouver, Washington (Landerholm Memowitz).

Harrang, as always, made time for the outdoors. He joined the Obsidians mountaineering club and signed up to climb Jeff and Jack. Harrang is referring to two well-known volcanoes in central Oregon’s High Cascades east of Eugene Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack. Both are considered difficult and on the list of Oregon’s top ten peaks. (And, in the late 1940s, climbers didn’t have the advantage of today’s high tech gear.)

He lettered in skiing at the UO, but said, We were weekend skiers- we only practiced when we raced.

My approach was keep the nose to the grindstone for two months – then we’d go climb something.

I went to law school to stay on the gravy train, Harrang said. Money for school was not a problem. No one had any debt — it was an unknown concept. The GI bill covered tuition, books and supplies.

His other expenses were covered by earnings from two summers as a seasonal ranger in the Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, the youngest range in the Rocky Mountains.
It was a busman’s holiday. We were called 90-day wonders and we climbed our heads off, he said.

 The rangers were posted in the north and south entrances and lived in military-style dorms. Harrang climbed the 13,700 foot Grand Teton peak by five different routes and helped carry an injured climber down 12, 325 foot Mt. Teewinot but for us, that was just fun, he said.

In June, 1950, just before his last year of law school, Jim Harrang married Nadine Hutchison, another UO graduate and outdoors adventurer. She taught music in Newport, on Oregon’s central coast, and later taught private piano lessons in Eugene.

(Since that beginning and over the past 55 years, they have climbed all of the mountains of Oregon together and rafted the main and middle forks of the Idaho Salmon River, the Grand Canyon and many other rivers.)

For his final year as a seasonal ranger, Harrang transferred to Yosemite, where he lived in a tent near the Merced River. But by September 1951, his life as a summer ranger was over and it was time to hang out a shingle. He paid part of the rent on a shared law office in Eugene.
Business was slow.

We went out for coffee and argued capital punishment. I figured if I could gross $1,000 a month, I’d have it made.

Independence and a leisurely pace were great ways to break into law practice, he remembers.  I got to be a fairly good typist in law school if someone wanted a land sales contract, I’d type it myself. I typed the deeds everything, I typed it.

By 1957, he and two partners had established Johnson, Johnson & Harrang in Eugene, representing individuals and small businesses. In 1989, they opened a Salem office to support their growing government relations, legislative and litigation practices. Their Portland office opened in 2000. Today, the Harrang Long Gary Rudnick practice areas include business law, civil and complex litigation, public law, legislative and government affairs, labor and employment, employee benefits, environmental and land use, and appellate work in the highest courts.

Times have changed. Harrang has great sympathy for new law graduates, You don’t even know if you want to be a lawyer, and you have to learn a lot fast, you have to adjust to all of the people. For women, you have to decide if you want to have a family, and if so, how to balance it. It’s much harder.

Harrang’s firm now maintains an equal number of men and women attorneys. In fact, their newest hire, 2001 UO law graduate Nicole Commissiong, is carrying on the balance of mental and physical effort that is the hallmark of Harrang’s career. She will work two-thirds time inside the office in order to compete outside on the track as an Olympic runner.

Jim Harrang gets up from the interview to head over to the university, where he runs every day and where he has kept a locker since 1951. His only complaint? They used to loan you towels and workout clothes a good, heavy sweatshirt. Now it’s only the towel.

I passed him on the sidewalk bordering UO’s Hayward Field a few days later; he was keeping up a running pace that wouldn’t shame someone 50 years younger.

 An outdoor life relieves the stress and demands of law practice, he had said in the interview.

Still not convinced?

. . .and it keeps the weight down. he added.

James P. and E. Nadine Harrang have funded an endowment to support outdoor activities for law students.

So far, the gift has helped the Run Club pay for law student entry fees in local races and partially funded the Minority Law Students Association weekend of fun and physical activity at the coast. An award will be made next fall to Land Air Water for their annual river raft trip. As the endowment grows with additional gifts, it will also be used to support student scholarships.

To contribute to this unique endowment, please contact the University of Oregon School of Law Development Office at 541-346-3865.

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