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Missouri mourns death of longtime attorney

June 10, 2013
Schoenbeck receives a big welcome at his last presentation with the MOA.

Schoenbeck receives a big welcome at his last presentation with the MOA.

The Missouri Optometric Association (MOA) mourned the death of Albert E. Schoenbeck, the association’s former attorney. Schoenbeck passed away in December at age 96. He had represented the MOA for more than 60 years.

As the story goes, the state of Missouri was then funding courses intended to improve adults’ social skills and economic well-being. A young St. Louis lawyer, Schoenbeck taught one of these on public speaking before a group that included 10 or 12 optometrists.

As Mr. Schoenbeck related it: “One evening after class, Dr. Felix Koetting, president of the MOA, expressed a desire to have an attorney on retainer. He added that the association was not in position to pay a large retainer. I asked what amount they had in mind, and he said $25 a month, and I promptly said ‘Now you have an attorney!’ The quarterly meetings of the board were always held at the Missouri Hotel, in Jefferson City, on Sunday. We would carpool the trips to the board meetings. Koetting, John Betz and Ray Bockhorst were always on the trips.”

Schoenbeck was the attorney of record for the Missouri State Board of Optometry in the now famous Curteman case in 1972. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld that the fitting of contact lenses constituted the practice of optometry. The Curteman case has been cited by the Missouri Supreme Court in other cases involving the state boards of dentistry and architecture. It has also been cited in courts in Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

In 1988, Mr. Schoenbeck was involved in the writing of Missouri State Statute that exempted optometrists from  charging sales tax on the sale of eyeglasses. In 1995, Schoenbeck represented William Grant, O.D., in his case against the Missouri Department of Revenue. During the trial, as the attorney for the state was trying to make the case against legislative intent of the drafted statute, Schoenbeck said, “back in 1988 when I wrote the statute…” Schoenbeck secured another victory for the optometrists.

In 1973, Mr. Schoenbeck was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters in Optometry from the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, Ill. He was awarded the Chancellor’s Medallion by the University Of Missouri at St. Louis in 2001. In the early 2000s, in honor of his service to the profession, the MOA christened its building the Albert E. Schoenbeck Building. In 2010, he attended the Legislative Conference in Jefferson City and made a generous contribution to the MOA. That would be the last time he addressed the MOA.

“I have known Mr. Schoenbeck for more than 25 years and have always thought of him as a true gentleman. At his memorial service, every single person who spoke used that same adjective to describe his character. I always saw him in his professional capacity, but it was moving to hear his grandchildren talk about his sense of humor as well as his work ethic,” said MOA Executive Director LeeAnn Barrett, O.D.

“Mr. Schoenbeck was a delightful gentleman who led the MOA thru many legal and legislative battles. His longevity with the association is legendary and his interest in the well-being of each and every member was exemplary. I had the pleasure of working with him at the MOA when he served as legal counsel during my executive director tenure there and then saw him frequently as an active member of our senior lawyer section here at the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis,” said Zoe Linza, former executive director of the MOA.

Terry Swinger, O.D., described Schoenbeck as “the most dignified and polite person I ever knew. Being the successful attorney that he was, he was able to command high fees for his services, but his soft spot for optometry as one of his first clients led him to stay with the MOA.”

Personal remembrance, organizational observation

By Thomas E. Eichhorst, J.D., fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and past AOA legal counsel

“It was my privilege to represent the American Optometric Association (AOA) at the memorial service for Albert E. Schoenbeck, the longtime attorney for the Missouri Optometric Association (MOA), who recently passed away at age 96. My 42 years of legal service to AOA pales by comparison to Al’s  60+ years of representing MOA.

“A brother at the local Bar and graduate of the same high school (Roosevelt, St. Louis) and law school (Washington University in St. Louis), I had numerous conversations and consultations with Al over the years. Two instances stand out.

“As a resource, I was in a Kansas City courtroom for a week, when Al adroitly handled the lawsuit prohibiting opticians from fitting contact lenses. His extensive degree of preparation and trial skills were legendary.

“At an AOA legal-legislative conference in St. Louis, we transformed a downtown hotel ballroom into a make-believe courtroom for a mock trial. All of the leading legal lights of the time were there: Bill Gould of California as the prosecutor; Bill Johnson of Kentucky, the defense attorney; Dr. Bob Corns of Indiana as the state board investigator; and Dr. Charlie Hughes of Arkansas as the defendant. By unanimous decision, Al was selected to be the judge. Resplendent in his borrowed robes, he presided with solomonic wisdom and with good humor, entertainingly explaining the proceedings to the audience. Perched up on his high bench, he reminded me of the esteemed Joseph N. Welch who portrayed the iconic judge in the movie “Anatomy of a Murder.” (With such a stellar cast, I was the bailiff.)

In 2010 Schoenbeck presented the MOA with a donation for its building. The building is named in his honor.

In 2010 Schoenbeck presented the MOA with a donation for its building. The building is named in his honor.

“In addition to extolling Al’s legal prowess, my other purpose in writing is to also salute his colleagues—the attorneys for the other state associations. At the service, it was a very poignant moment when a family member noted how pleased and proud Al was when the MOA named its headquarters building in Jefferson City after him. The ‘Albert E. Schoenbeck Building’ name is emblazoned on the edifice of the building, cater-cornered from the State Capitol building. How wonderful that MOA chose to make this recognition during Al’s lifetime when he could appreciate this great accolade. (I know that as a non-optometrist, I have been humbled and inspired by honorary degrees—SCO, PCO, and honorary memberships—IAB/ARBO, NHOA, AOA, CAO.) Posthumous honors are nice, but how much better it is if the recipient is able to savor the recognition while being able ‘to smell the roses.’

State association attorneys stand second only to the association execs/staff in their role of protecting and perfecting the profession for the public’s visual welfare. Other state associations would do well to emulate the MOA and recognize the contributions made by their legal counsel. (Of course, even more-so, if our dedicated execs/staff have gone unrecognized, they certainly deserve to be honored forthwith!).

“J. Harold Bailey, AOA’s first executive director (and my primary mentor), often lauded the magnetic-like attraction of optometry to transform ordinary lay people into zealous advocates for the profession. Truly, optometry has been blessed by and owes much to its outstanding state association execs/staff and attorneys.

“One can only add a loud ‘amen’ to the biblical benediction of Matthew 25:23 that concluded the service for Al Schoenbeck:  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

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