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Gillen likes the variety as new corporation counsel

New Richmond native Don Gillen always wanted to go to law school and had an affinity for accounting. The two interests worked out quite well in the pursuit of his career goals.

"I wanted to go to law school as far back as when I was a student in high school," said Gillen, 56, who has taken over the St. Croix County Corporation Counsel position after working 23 years in the department.

"I liked accounting and I wanted to finish law school debt free," he said during a conversation in his office last week.

He accomplished his mission. Gillen earned a BBA degree in accounting from UW-Eau Claire after graduating from New Richmond High School in 1974. He worked in accounting for three years to earn and save money for future education.

While holding down a full-time job, he attended William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul at night from 1982-85 and earned his degree sans any lingering debt.

"When I look back on it now, I don't know how I did it, but I was young," he said. "I worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a full-time job then went to law school from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

With a brand new degree, Gillen then worked in private practice for a law firm in Superior in 1986 where he did general practice. "Their main focus was insurance defense, but I did a little of everything. It was a good background," Gillen said.

From Superior he returned to the area and joined a Hudson law firm when the Department of Corporation Council was developed and a job opened in county government.

"In January 1990, I started as assistant to Greg Timmerman," he said. Timmerman, the original corporate counsel, resigned in November. Gillen filled in until he officially took over the position June 5.

"Working for the county involves a number of topics," he said. "You deal with real estate, zoning, government issues, finance and represent the board. It's a wide variety of law."

Gillen also admitted the smorgasbord of issues keeps him in tune with the myriad of state laws, old and new. The job requires constant review of the statutes.

The challenge as well as the allure of the job is the variety of work. "You deal with multiple departments and areas. In private practice, even in a general law firm, you would have four or five lawyers and each has an area of expertise they deal with," Gillen said.

"I have been fortunate to have an experienced, knowledgeable staff," he said.

Like most people, Gillen finds the moniker "Corporate Counsel" somewhat confusing in connection with county government. The directory definition for the job is St. Croix County's general counsel.

"When I introduce myself, I just say I'm county attorney," he said.

Gillen married the former Denise Johnson of Somerset in June 1985. They have two grown sons, Blake, 26, and Bennett, 24, Not surprisingly, they both graduated from UW-Eau Claire with accounting degrees.

"They work in international taxes," said Gillen, but dad does their personal income tax returns.