John L. Schwabe '48: A Study in Perseverance
"More than anything else, nothing is impossible," says World War II Pacific Theatre hero John L. Schwabe. "Things get awful, but it can never be as awful as things were over there."
In 1941, the Oklahoma native, pre-law student and wrestler at Oklahoma A&M University, now Oklahoma State, decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. A year later, he left his newlywed wife, Jean, as an officer bound for the South Pacific battles of WWII. His journey took him to Guadalcanal, an island where more than 3,000 American soldiers died, for the first major land operation in the Pacific. Over the next several years, he would fight in Tarawa and Saipan as well, earning a Silver Star and five Bronze Stars for valor.
Upon his return to the U.S., he served as the commanding officer of the Marines combat intelligence school. As the war ended, John had to choose whether or not to reenlist.
"I'm very proud to have been a Marine," he says. "I had to think very hard about whether to get out. I liked the Marine Corps very much, but I wanted to raise a family. I'm still very close with many of my Marine buddies to this day."
John decided to return to civilian life and pursue a law degree at The Ohio State University. He graduated in 1948.
Following graduation, the family set out for Silverton, Oregon, where John set up a small law office.
"If you can, go to a place you think you'd like to live; your chances of success will be much greater," says John. "My first love was fishing. I had never been to the West Coast and heard it was beautiful. I thought this would be my last opportunity to have a chance to live where I wanted."
It was a good choice. Three years later, John won a case that would
change the course of his life. It wasn't a big case, but he bested the
three lawyers sent by the opposition. "I got lucky and beat them," he
says. "One of the lawyers liked me, so they offered me a job."
John moved into what would become a decades-long practice in business law, focusing on condemnations, real estate, and antitrust.
Successes did not come without setbacks. In 1965, his oldest son, John Len Schwabe, Jr., then an OSU student, died in a car accident. John fought through the pain, leaning on the lessons learned years earlier in the South Pacific. He carried on with perseverance.
Today, his firm is Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, one of the top law firms in the Pacific Northwest, working with clients from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses. It is the second largest law firm in Oregon, with offices in Portland, Bend and Salem, Oregon; Seattle, Stevenson and Vancouver, Washington; and Washington, D.C.
"I'm very proud of what we've done," he says. "I was the seventh lawyer when I joined. Now we have 145. All firms go through a metamorphosis. You have to choose to get bigger or smaller. We wanted to be an all-service firm. We wanted to handle everything that came in the door, so we grew with our clients."
In 2004, the firm ranked seventh among Oregon's "100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon," according to Oregon Business magazine.
Ten years ago, John retired and now spends winters in Tucson, Arizona. He maintains an office in Portland, and still works in an advisory role for the firm. John says he keeps active with fishing, golf, and community activities. He and Jean enjoy spending time with their three children, Ann, Susan, and Ron, and their grandchildren whenever they can, including one whom John tutors in school regularly.
For life lessons in perseverance, a grandchild couldn't pick a better teacher.