Becoming a lawyer wasn’t an aspiration for young Jerry. In fact, he explains that he was most content with his nose buried in one of his mother’s books. The youngest of two boys, his father was a dairy farmer. “Those cows sent me to school in more ways than one,” he remarked.
The college he chose was UND ─ not for any reason ─ other than he wanted to attend a large school and two of his high school classmates from his class of 10 were also attending. Upon enrolling at UND, Jerry chose to major in accounting, and that is when he eventually felt the “spark” to attend law school. “I took a business law class from Louie Kulas during my third year of college and it just clicked. Good professors can make all the difference in the world,” he said.
“Taking an issue and reading and reviewing and resolving ─ law school was a snap compared to accounting,” he smiled.
Justice VandeWalle graduated first in his UND Law class of 1958, and after admission to the bar that July, he joined the North Dakota Attorney General’s office ─ officially beginning his long and prolific career of service. “My education at the UND School of Law really provided me with the solid education I needed to jumpstart my career. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for UND,” he said.
In addition to the noted accolades, Justice VandeWalle also received The Sioux Award from the UND Alumni Association & Foundation in 1992; the North Dakota State Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1998; and in 2015 he was the 42nd recipient of the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award; University of North Dakota Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters and, in 2016, University of Mary degree of Doctor of Leadership.
Reflecting back on his life and years of service, Justice VandeWalle says, “When I was appointed to the Court my first concern was that I would do something that would reduce respect for the Court and the rule of law. While that concern remains, even today, I have come to realize that a defensive posture alone will not and cannot maintain respect for our system of justice. I hope that the small steps we have taken have had a positive impact on our citizens’ respect for our justice system and the rule of law. While I would not want alone to be remembered for my tenure on the bench, it is a privilege and an honor to serve North Dakota for these many years. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.”