It's a Family Thing: The Stellmon Legacy
By Stacie Jones
Originally published in the 2013 Idaho Law Magazine
Tanner Stellmon '06 holds the distinction of having his picture displayed twice among the hundreds of alumni photos that adorn a Menard Building hallway on the University of Idaho College of Law campus. One image depicts him as a four-year-old boy, standing next to his young-lawyer father; the other captures Tanner as a 24-year-old new law graduate, proudly becoming the fourth-generation of his family to earn a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree from the University of Idaho College of Law.
"The University of Idaho and the College of Law have been in the Stellmon bloodlines and running through our veins for a long time," said Tanner's father, John Stellmon '84.
It is a tradition that began more than 85 years ago with Tanner's great-grandfather, Elbert A. Stellmon '28. Elbert began his legal career in his hometown of Nezperce, Idaho, at the Lewis County Prosecutor's Office, where he was the youngest prosecuting attorney in the nation at the time. He later opened a practice in Lewiston, Idaho, where he etched a name for both his family and his beloved university.
"My granddad was a proud Idahoan and Vandal," John said. "He was so steeped in the University of Idaho legacy and its heritage and history. In a lot of ways, he was there from the beginning. To him, there was not another university out there."
Elbert's son, William Stellmon '60, followed suit and joined his father's law firm after he graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law.
"He was your classic, small-town lawyer, sometimes accepting payment in the form of cookies, used tires and old cars," Tanner said about his grandfather. "When I asked him once about accepting payment of that sort, he just said: 'These people need the kind of help I can give them.'"
On par with tradition, John Stellmon '84, William's son, also earned his law degree at the University of Idaho. He practiced alongside his father in Lewiston for seven years before launching a successful corporate career with Regence Blue Shield of Idaho, where he climbed to the position of president and CEO.
"I never felt pressure from my dad to do anything than what I felt what was right to do," John said. "He encouraged me to stand on my own two feet, and he got out of the way. He wanted me to find my own path. That's the way he was taught, the way I was taught, and the way I tried to teach my children."
"My path has always been mine to forge," agreed Tanner, John's son. "When I was finishing my undergraduate degree, my dad told me: 'It occurs to me that you may feel some type of pull or pressure to be a lawyer, but don't do it because you think someone expects you to.'
"A year later I ended up in law school. It may have been reverse psychology," he joked.
Tanner recalls a conversation in which his grandfather lightheartedly "double-dog dared" him to break from tradition and become a dentist instead.
"Grandpa told me there would be more money in dentistry and more free time to fish, but I've always found the law interesting. It was a logical choice for me," Tanner said.
While Tanner may have attended law school of his own accord, his family undoubtedly inspired his career choice.
"I felt like the best way to contribute to my community was to better myself through my education and to pursue a career that would enable me to make a difference," he said. "I saw my grandfather do that, my dad do that, and it was something I aspired to do."
Tanner is now a deputy prosecuting attorney for Ada County and father to his two-year-old son, Gavin. Whether or not Gavin will become the fifth generation to attend the College of Law remains to be seen, but the Stellmon legal legacy will certainly live on — thanks to a scholarship Tanner's grandmother, Marlene, established in the college in honor of her late husband, William.
"The University of Idaho law school experience played an influential role in their lives and in dad's career," John said of his parents. "Mom thought that dad would really enjoy having his name attached to the facilitation of a young law student being helped financially to realize their career dreams."