the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

A Goshen lawyer looks back

Most nights at the Ainlay household are quiet. Charles Ainlay often sits with his wife Dorothy and reads The Christian Science Monitor or a John Grisham novel. Sometimes they watch a TV program, often settling on the local PBS affiliate.

Evenings weren’t always this relaxing.

The law firm Ainlay began building in 1953 is now the largest in Elkhart County, but while he officially retired from practicing law three years ago, retirement includes working for longtime clients, attending Rotary meetings and serving on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club and GC’s President’s Advisory Board. He also remains an active member of Fourth Freedom Forum, a Goshen-based organization seeking to end worldwide armed conflict.

“I’ve tended to be a bit of a workaholic,” said Ainlay, reflecting on 83 years of life and individual character. “I think it would be better if one were more relaxed than I have tended to be.”

Ainlay was born in Mishawaka, Ind., in 1919 – the only boy in his family. His father died when Charles was 9, leaving his mother to support the children. At Mishawaka High School, he was heavily involved in the debate team, and met his future spouse, Dorothy, an award-winning drum major.

“Frankly I didn’t think I could afford college,” he said. But his debate coach (and future GC faculty member) Roy Umble ’35 encouraged him to find a way to finance further education. Umble took him on a visit to nearby Goshen College, where his father, John, was a professor of English.

Inspired by the visit, Ainlay enrolled at Goshen College in 1937 – and was immediately elected class president. “It surprised me, because I was not Mennonite; I was Methodist,” he said.

In 1939, Ainlay won first place in the state and national Intercollegiate Peace Association oratorical contest. On the debate team, Ainlay was paired with J. Robert Kreider ’41, one of his best friends, and the two won a number of competitions, including one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Said Ainlay, humbly, “I give a lot of credit for that to Robert, because he was a brilliant debater.”

Despite a food supply that was less than adequate for such an active student, Ainlay got through college just like everything else: hard work. He studied at night, sometimes during his campus job working undisturbed in a boiler room under the light of a single bulb, and worked on the weekends at a grocery store in Mishawaka.

But college wasn’t all hard work. His friends would remember him as “one who was ready at the drop of a hat to have some fun.” He was something of a prankster, and still remembers participating in water fights when he lived in Coffman Hall.

One of his fondest memories is from his senior year, 1941, when Goshen College President Ernest Miller ’17 was seeking admittance to the North Central Association, an accreditation body, so students would have more options for graduate study after college. Miller was coming back from Chicago when a telegram announcing GC’s admittance arrived.

“We decided the accreditation was worthy of a celebration,” Ainlay said, “so we worked like beavers to get ready for his return.”

The class organized a parade down the city of Goshen’s Main Street, coming to the train station where President Miller was due to return. “I think the residents were kind of concerned; they probably thought we were rioting,” he said.

After college, Ainlay moved to Washington, D.C., to study foreign affairs in graduate school at American University. But the world was unsettled, with World War II raging. Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Ainlay knew he would be drafted. Dorothy traveled to the nation’s capital by train, and she and Charles were married that same day. The couple lived in a cramped apartment while Ainlay finished school.

Then, as soon as school ended, he was drafted.

Ainlay moved all over the country for training, hoping to enter the legal division of the army despite his inexperience. But all too soon he was thrust into battle in Europe.

Ainlay’s eyes still tear when he talks about the war. “I was very fortunate to be one of the survivors,” said the second lieutenant. Today, Ainlay said, if faced with the decision, he wouldn’t go.

“I was involved in the worst aspects of war,” he said. “I saw all the suffering that was involved, not just with the troops, but with the civilian population. I feel that war is altogether wrong. It brings out the worst in people. I feel strongly opposed to war as the way to solve problems.”

After leaving the service, he worked as a defense council for soldiers who deserted or were accused as murderers. He decided to finance an education at the University of Notre Dame Law School on the GI Bill, a congressionally funded education program for soldiers.

Ainlay loved law school and graduated with honors, then searched for a place to start a practice. When he asked the dean of the law school for advice, he was told to relocate to Goshen, which the dean said was “a wonderful place to raise children.”

So the Ainlays moved to the Maple City, where Charles joined J. S. Yoder in practice. Ainlay was joined by John Ulmer and George Buckingham, and the partners eventually moved to their current location on Main Street near the county courthouse.

While the firm was growing, so was Ainlay’s interest in civic engagement. He was elected as county chairman of the Republican Party and ran for Congress in 1962, losing to John Brademas by 7,200 votes.

In addition to long hours at the office, Ainlay often traveled to nearby counties for political campaigning over nights and weekends, leaving Dorothy to care for the children. He feels now that he spent too much time away from his family.

Today, Ainlay finds pleasure in spending time with his wife, communicating with his children by e-mail and staying active in the community.

“I have been blessed,” he said. “But I think part of it relates to activity. If I would make a recommendation to anyone who wants to live a long life, I would recommend that they stay active.”

Charles and Dorothy Ainlay established a scholarship for communication majors in 1983. The Ainlay scholarship is awarded to students who have demonstrated exceptional leadership ability and academic excellence. Andrew Clouse ’03 (Goshen) received the award in 2002-03; in the coming academic year, the award will be shared by Laura Kraybill (Elkhart, Ind.) and Anna Newburn (Goshen), both seniors.

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