The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Judge William G. Juergens, a jurist with a keen sense of fairness who served his county and his country as a judge in county, circuit, and federal courtrooms, will be inducted into the 2023 class of honorees.
William Juergens was born on September 7, 1904, in Steeleville. He was the first surviving child of H.F.W. Juergens and his wife, Tillie Nolte Juergens, joining a family that included an elder sister from his father’s first marriage. Three more siblings completed the household, which maintained close ties with their family back in Germany throughout William’s childhood.
William’s father worked as a tailor with his own shop in Steeleville. In 1911, he moved his business to Chester, and the family relocated as well. William excelled as a student at St. John’s Lutheran School and Chester High School. He initially dreamed of becoming a physician, but ultimately he decided that his talents were a better fit for a legal career. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Carthage College in 1925 before going on to law school at the University of Michigan. After graduating in 1928, he returned to Chester and set up a law practice in his hometown.
Chester would remain William’s hometown for the rest of his wife. He married Helen Young in 1929, and the couple raised two children, Jane and William Jr., in a home on Swanwick Street. William became Chester’s city attorney in 1930, a position he held for the next eight years. He was also a very active member of numerous civic organizations and a church elder at Chester’s Presbyterian Church.
In 1938, William entered his name in the race for county judge. He won the election, as well as the next two, serving in the job for the next 13 years. He ran an efficient county court, economizing during the depression and war years. He also gained a reputation for fairness, as well as for special consideration for the juvenile offenders who arrived in his courtroom. “The youth of today are the men and women of tomorrow and upon their righteous conduct depends the future,” one of his campaign advertisements stated.
William advanced to the next stage of his career in June 1951, winning an election to serve as a judge in the Third Judicial Circuit. His dedication and fairness on the bench caught the attention of those in positions of power. On June 8, 1956, he was nominated by President Eisenhower to become a federal judge, serving in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois. He was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate a few weeks later and sworn in on June 29. He promised to be “fair and square” in his new role, following the same “prayer of ethics” that had guided him for years. His promotion was celebrated widely—even by many of the men who had been sentenced to prison in William’s courtroom. Several Menard inmates worked together to create a portrait of the judge, with the prison warden noting, “The boys at Menard recognize the judge as being a fair man.”
William served as a federal judge for the next 16 years, presiding over a number of high-profile cases. He became Chief Judge of the court in 1965. Sadly, he lost his wife, Helen, the following year after a long battle with cancer. Eventually, he married again after reuniting with a childhood friend, Louise Mann. He retired in 1972 but retained senior status and continued to hear cases in courtrooms across the country when needed. In his later years, William received numerous accolades recognizing his long, dedicated service to the judicial system, including an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Carthage College. On December 7, 1988, he passed away in Chester at the age of 84, leaving behind a towering professional legacy.
Perhaps the clearest summation of William’s character was written by a fellow attorney and friend, Robert Broderick. He called William Juergens simply “a great and good man whose character showed clearly through all that he did.” William’s commitment to justice helped him to climb the ranks in his profession, and the long list of his achievements serve as a challenge for all of us to follow the same set of principles in our lives.
Click here to read a more detailed biography of Judge William G. Juergens.