Jim Brotherson tribute — June 3, 2017, Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, Goshen

friendsPumpkinvine News

On June 3, 2017, The Michiana Pay It Forward Foundation planted a weeping cherry tree in the grassy areas of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail north of SR 4 in memory of James R. Brotherson. They asked me to say a few words on the occasion. Here’s what I said.

I’m honored to speak about the legacy of Jim Brotherson, a person who “paid it forward” many times over.  
Today we’re standing on land that Jim helped change from an overgrown, unsightly tangle of weeds, scrub trees an

In Memory Of James R. Brotherson an attorney for the Friends
 of the Pumpkinvine and a dedicated cyclist, who used
his time and talents over two decades to help transform
an abandoned railroad corridor into the Pumpkinvine
Nature Trail. Donated by The Michiana Pay It
Forward Foundation

d prickly multiflora rose bushes into a beautiful linear park that is used by thousands of families, birdwatchers, wildflower enthusiasts, bikers, joggers and people out walking their dogs. What a transformation of the landscape and of our opportunities for healthy recreation and active transportation that he helped put in motion!

How did he do it? At a time when opponents of the proposed Pumpkinvine Nature Trail were saying that our title was worthless, he recruited other lawyers — Jim Byron, Chuck Grodnik and later Doug Mulvaney – to prove that they were wrong. He recognized immediately that proving the Friends of the Pumpkinvine owned the old Pumpkinvine corridor would mean tracing the chain of title of 120 deeds from the 1890s to the present, and that that task was too big a job for his firm to do, working pro bono. Through eight lawsuits and  

The Brotherson family with the weeping cherry tree:
daughter in law,
Linda Brotherson holding grandson William James;
son Andrew Brotherson; wife, Patricia Brotherson,
father, Richard Brotherson; brother in law, John Banks;
sister, Nancy Banks; daughter in law,
Sarah Holstine Brotherson; and son Spencer Brotherson.

mediations, this team of lawyers wrote the briefs and devised the strategies that successfully defended our title100 percent of the time. That’s right: they never lost a case about a disputed parcel, mainly because they studied the deeds and were smart enough to defend only parcels with strong titles.

The second quality that made Jim so valuable to the Friends of the Pumpkinvine was that he was a great teacher. Most of us on the Friends of the Pumpkinvine board found the legal system very intimidating. We were unfamiliar with motions for summary judgments, discovery, case consolidation, temporary restraining orders and rulings with prejudice and without prejudice. Jim patiently explained these legal terms in a way that we could understand and that gave us confidence that we were on the right track.
Finally, I remember Jim as a wise counselor. At many points, our Friends of the Pumpkinvine board had to decide what to do next, and we found Jim’s advice to be invaluable. He always had time to listen to our concerns and help us devise a plan of action. Personally, he calmed me down when I thought the sky was falling, and in the process, I learned that a lawyer’s role as a counselor can be just as important as his ability to write a brief.
I think it is very fitting that the Pay It Forward Foundation decided to plant a tree here in Jim memory. A tree provides shade on sunny days, gives shelter for small animals and birds and displays a blast of color in the fall. These qualities are obvious. It is not as obvious, that they put oxygen into the air, giving us life.
Jim’s contributions to the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail were like that less-obvious oxygen – an inventive, steady force behind the scenes that gave life to the process of creating a controversial public park.
As lawyer, friend, teacher and counselor, he made Elkhart County healthier and more livable. This tree and plaque are a reminder that we are all in his debt for the beautiful park we see around us today.

—  John Yoder, President, Friends of the Pumpkinvine