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NAELA and Kindred Spirits: It’s Historical and Personal

By A. Frank Johns, CELA, CAP, Fellow
Volunteers Before its beginning, it was inevitable that ­NAELA would be a different kind of legal entity; as it took shape, it was obvious that NAELA would be grounded in intuitive, personal, and family relationships that became characterized as kindred spirits; as it moves into the next generation, it is imperative that NAELA return to its beginnings and embrace anew its kindred spirits.

That it was inevitable and ­obvious is due to the character and spirit of ­NAELAians at NAELA’s birth and during its infancy. There are so many that stand out and given enough space and time they would be recognized for their enduring contributions. Many came from the ranks of aging advocacy, disability rights, public service, social services, and legal aid. As many came from the conventional, transactional ranks of tax, estate planning, and trust law. Many were law professors in aging and gerontology, or lawyers focusing their private practices on older Americans.

Among those early NAELA leaders are three that stand out, deserving recognition. They were instrumental in building NAELA’s character, upgrading its education and academics, and epitomizing NAELA’s goodness and spirit. They are Professor John J. Regan, Fellow; Clifton B. Kruse, Fellow; and Professor Rebecca C. Morgan, Fellow.1

John J. Regan, Fellow
Only 66 years old, John Regan died a victim of cancer in 1995. Early in his life he was an ordained Catholic priest in the Order of St. Vincent, but was drawn to law, teaching, and writing. Years later, when commenting on leaving the priesthood for law, Regan said, “It did not represent a break with the church or a departure from it in any respect. It was simply, rather, a rethinking of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” One of many things Regan did in the years that passed was to be one of NAELA’s founding members.

Clifton B. Kruse Jr., Fellow
Almost as young at 74 years old, Clifton Kruse died in 2008. As his father before him, Kruse was an ordained Methodist minister. However, after serving as a prison chaplain, he maintained an estate and trust practice in which he developed his passion for helping others, especially older adults. A prolific writer and lecturer, he wrote a continuing column, “The Peripatetic Essayist,” in which he shared his practice strategies and how elder law attorneys should embrace the holistic nature of elder law. NAELA published his book, Selma’s Cat and Other Things That Matter, a collection of his essays on the concerns and experiences of senior citizens. He served as NAELA’s 8th president (1995-1996).

Professor Rebecca C. Morgan, CAP, Fellow
Still driven to achieve excellence, Professor Rebecca C. Morgan should be considered the mother of elder law. Her tireless energy has created many firsts in the field, none the least of which are the first master of laws program and the National Special Needs Trust Annual Conference. That’s only the tip of her mountain of accomplishments. An early leader of NAELA, Morgan was its 11th president, and has continually chaired countless NAELA committees and programs, and written countless books and articles. More than any of those successes, Morgan has mothered and nurtured students, colleagues, and the broader elder law bar with her quick wit, self-deprecating humor, unfailing friendship, and eagerness to help.2

Defining Elder Law
In those early NAELA years, Regan, Kruse, and Morgan worked tirelessly with NAELA and its leadership to develop what has become known as the elder law espousal. In a 1995 article in The Elder Law Journal, Kruse acknowledged the new, developing, and distinctive nature of the elder law practice:

Elder law is focused on multiple legal issues that older persons face. … It includes helping people who are frail and who are chronically disabled. … those who often require assistance with the requisites of daily living. … Lawyers practicing elder law consider the legal issues relating to assisted living and life in nursing homes, and the legal consequences that follow institutionalization.3

These three NAELA icons may well have been those long-time NAELA members and preeminent academics Professor Larry Prolik, CAP, Fellow, referred to when in 1993, he wrote what elder law is:

… the practice of solving an individual’s legal problems which arise from elemental human experiences: aging, loss of loved ones, loss of health, and death. … being a savior-in-pinstripes is well served by the tasks of the elder law attorney. These lawyers, at the end of the day, reflect upon the “good” deeds that they have performed.” (emphasis added)4

A Culture of Giving Back
Regan and Kruse nurtured and educated those attorneys beginning their elder law professional careers, and guided NAELA’s leaders in the years before their passing. They were always accessible, helping NAELA leaders and members learn from each other and working together to create an inviting and welcoming culture in NAELA. Morgan was there then, and continues to this day, nurturing, teaching, and friending those of us lucky enough to be counted as her students in the growing NAELA family.

Many early NAELA leaders and members were raising their own families as they were raising NAELA. They brought their children with them to NAELA conferences, and many of those children have become NAELA members and leaders today. Through more than three decades, the NAELA culture has maintained feelings and relationships that border on the spiritual, even being coined “Kindred Spirits.” It was first used in 1996, when this author accepted the second annual Theresa Award, given by Vincent and Susan Russo, and the Russo family.5 It has since grown as an expression of NAELAians to each other as they build the larger NAELA family. Coming full circle, NAELA’s spiritual core continues under the aegis of John Regan, Clifton Kruse, and Rebecca Morgan, kindred spirits nurturing and teaching us now and for generations of NAELA to come.

1 Knowing them, they would deflect the spotlight, turning it on others.

2 Robert B. Fleming, Rebecca C. Morgan: How Does She Do That? 19 NAELA News 4 (Issue 2, 2007).

3 Clifton B. Kruse, Jr., The Elder Law Attorney: Working with Grief, 3 The Elder L. J. 99, 100 (Spring 1995).

4 Lawrence A. Frolik, The Developing Field of Elder Law: A Historical Perspective, 1 Elder L. J. 1,3 (Spring 1993).

5 Clifton B. Kruse, Jr., The Elder Law Attorney: Working with Grief, 3 The Elder L. J. 99, 100 (Spring 1995).

A. Frank Johns, Ancestral Spirits, Family Spirits and Kindred Spirit (May 1996) (available from NAELA News upon request).

An Invitation from NAELA President Wendy Shparago Cappelletto, Esq., CAP
NAELA was founded more than 30 years ago by a group of attorneys and educators who were practicing and teaching a “different” kind of law. They came together and formed NAELA finding their “kindred spirits.” This is central to who NAELA is.

To help you get to know some of the early organizers of NAELA, we asked A. Frank Johns, CELA, CAP, NAELA Fellow, NAELA Past President, a founding member, and keeper of the flame, to share some background about the kindred spirit of NAELA. Frank invites you as a “NAELAian” to embrace the kindred spirits and volunteer to keep the flame alive.

I invite every NAELA member to volunteer and become part of this incredible community of elder and special needs law attorneys. NAELA national has opportunities, and if your state has a NAELA Chapter, you can get your start volunteering at the local level.

Volunteering isn't limited to joining a committee. There are opportunities for members who want to write or present online webinars or at a live NAELA event.

When you volunteer, you have the opportunity to meet other members in your state and around the country. The connections you make will last a lifetime.

We hope you will consider volunteering with NAELA. There are options that will fit your time available and your interests.

Visit and let us know how you'd like to volunteer.
About the Author
A. Frank Johns, CELA, CAP, is a NAELA Past President and NAELA Fellow. He’s a member of the NAELA Foundation Board of Trustees.
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In this issue..

The Rural Attorney

By  April Hill, CELA, CAP, and Lynn Morelli, Esq.

NAELA and Kindred Spirits: It's Historical and Personal

By  A. Frank Johns, CELA, CAP, Fellow

No Excuse to Miss the 2021 NAELA Annual Conference

By  Brenna Galvin, Esq., and Beth McDaniel, CELA

President's Message: Become a NAELA Volunteer

By  Wendy Shparago Cappelletto, Esq., CAP