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J.D. Zornes: Outstanding Professional/Business Man

By Adam Zornes, written with his brother Kyle

I don't get back home that often, so don't feel bad if you don't remember me. If it helps, try to imagine me clean shaven, half my age, and about a hundred pounds lighter.

My mother and brother are the public speakers of the family. I take after my father, the more shy and reserved type -- just what you want in an attorney. That being said, he has always been there for me. When Mom asked me to come up here and introduce him, I jumped at the chance to say a few things he'd be too modest to mention.


My father was raised in and around Winchester, KY, the son of a linesman and a clerk at the Army Depot, with roots on all sides in the mines of the Eastern Kentucky mountains. In the normal course of things, he might have followed in his father's footsteps. But the struggle of generations working on the land or under it, with calloused hands and aching backs, brought a chance for a different kind of challenge.

Higher education. My grandmother was determined that he take the opportunity, proud he'd be the first in his family. He still spent summers learning the lessons of honest labour in the fields or factories or up on roofs, working jobs my grandfather helped pick, to remind him that school may be hard work, but sweating in the July sun is harder.

But the rest of the time he read books and wrote papers and found love, and graduated with an eminently practical degree in Political Science. With that and two quarters, you could get a gallon of gas in 1975.

All part of his plan. That fall he was back on campus at the College of Law. I'm not sure what you should read into it, but this is one of his favorite jokes, "What do you call the man who graduated dead last from the tiniest law school in America and took four chances to pass the bar? An attorney." I'd like it noted for the record that neither of us tell good jokes, and he did pass the bar on the first attempt.

So there he was. A newly minted attorney -- through the sacrifices of his family and his own sweat and tears. What next? Some people go into the law for the thrill of the courtroom, and some for where it can take you, and most all for the money. But not my father. He chose, as he always has, to first serve others. After strongly considering a position as a Public Defender in a big city, he took the counsel of his bride-to-be and went to work for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund in Harlan, Kentucky.

It was maybe not the best fit. After a while, my mother, tired of not seeing the sun until 10 or the stars before midnight, impressed upon him in her subtle way that she would like to move. Family lore has the quote as something like, "JD, I'm moving. I'd love for you to come with me, but I am going."

Providence was on his side. "AppalRed" was just about to open a new office right here. It felt like coming home. The local Bar Association welcomed him with open arms. His work at AppalRed was providing legal services to folks who've fallen just a little behind. Maybe not the stuff of John Grisham novels, but good work that needed doing. Dad has never been one to shirk a task.

So he cut his teeth on the small bones of law. The contracts and title searches and small claims, the hope and sadness bound up in a will. All the complicated little things that we trust lawyers to understand and handle for us.

Solid tasks, and necessary, but in time he found he needed more. He and Mom took stock, and knew they couldn't leave their new home and friends. So he did the one thing he swore he'd never do as a lawyer -- go into general practice in a small town.

Easier said than done. A young attorney needs help, especially in a town like this, where neighbors know each other, and have a lifetime of trusting the folks they grew up with. It was the local Bar Association that helped him once again. They sent him clients, gave him advice. With their help, brief by brief and case by case, my father built an attorney's most prized possession--a reputation.

Even with rare talent and prodigious elbow grease, it's a struggle to build a successful practice. When we think of an attorney, we mostly see the established professional. It's easy to forget the hungry young advocate, spending every moment he can working, and all the others hoping he'll have enough clients to keep himself in legal pads. And my father, with one son a babe in arms and another on the way, was hungry indeed. And young. I've seen pictures, he still had hair.

Good deeds should not go unnoticed, and I'd be remiss not to call attention to this. It was at this time of need that a father and son took him under their wing. Cotton and Hunter Durham (now those are names from a Grisham novel) gave him more help than he had any right to ask. They were the father he'd missed since my grandfather passed away, and the older brother he'd never had. In time, they made him a partner, and there he's stayed.

For nearly longer than I've lived, he's been a partner at that firm. Has he run a title for you? Did he settle your mother's estate? Draw up the contract for your business? Defend you in court?

When the city has asked for help, he's been there. Child advocate, City Attorney, Deputy Master Commissioner, he's done it all. For almost four decades he has served this community and the people in it faithfully and to best of his considerable ability. I don't think you can ask more than that from anyone.

Still, for all that, it surprised me when Mom said he'd won this award. Don't get me wrong, if she'd said he'd won Humanitarian of the Year I wouldn't have batted an eye. But Professional slash Business man of the Year? Isn't that someone who puts work first? Don't you put out adds and hustle up clients and make big deals? I don't even know if there has ever been a Durham and Zornes add more elaborate than 20 words in the high school year book.

He puts in hard work, yes, and the best that he can do. I've never even heard a rumor he did less than he could, and I always just kind of assumed that work was his only hobby since he gave up tennis. He works because that's how he was taught, do a job the best you can, not to get noticed.

But do you know what I remember growing up? It wasn't an empty chair at dinner, or talk about the big case he had going. It was just him, there. Every baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, and track game/match/meet, for two boys that played sports 10 months a year from age 4-18. He and Mom even came up for some of my rugby games in college, and I missed some of them myself.

And church. If you believe some of the shows on TV, you wouldn't think a lawyer could even set foot in a church. My father was there every Sunday. He taught Sunday school, lead the Royal Ambassadors, and serves as a Deacon. He would volunteer us all to weed out the garden in front. I've never met a more spiritual man. That's how I see him. He was my father, and good man -- the best I've ever known -- not a businessman. But maybe I can't see one thing for the other. So I asked myself "What is a Professional?" Is it just a man who does some white collar work in an office to earn a living? What is success? The top of your field, money to burn, and awards filling up the walls of your office? If that's your definition, then I don't think you'd pick my father. Since you've picked him as your man, then maybe I should look to him for the model.

It's someone who works until the job is done. Those lessons learned sweating in the summers, to keep your head down and plow through, that's what he falls back on when it's late and he's been working on the same case for ten hours on a Saturday.

And it's someone dedicated to their calling, who spent seven years in College -- having a lot less fun than I did; that turned down a good job in a big firm to serve people he knew needed help; a man who's spent four decades honing his skills in the office and courtroom, spent three-day weekends taking seminars in hotel conference rooms; who's grown from a raw talent to a pillar of this community through focus and determination.

Maybe most of all, it's a man who's done all that, never even expecting a round of applause. My father has spent a lifetime building a reputation for honesty, hard work, and, yes, professionalism the likes of which I can only hope to achieve. A reputation un-looked-for, but certainly not undeserved.

And so, with only a little further ado, help me welcome to the stage ... James, Son of James. Husband of Ellen Francis, Father of Adam and Kyle. Member of the Kentucky Bar Association and Attorney at Law. Deputy Master Commissioner. Deacon of the Columbia Baptist Church. Member in good standing of the Rotary Club, and your Chamber of Commerce Professional man of the Year.


This story was posted on 2017-05-17 16:33:59
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Chamber membership honors J.D.Zornes



2017-05-17 - Cranmer Dining Center, Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, KY - Photo by Linda Waggener, columbiamagazine.com.
The Columbia-Adair Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet celebrates award winners elected by members with the winner of each category being presented a placque, and citation of achievement from both Rep. Bam Carney and Sen. Max Wise. From left are: Rep. Bam Carney with Adam, J.D. and Ellen Zornes. See also: Awards presented at annual Chamber of Commerce banquet

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