Wisconsin farmers who can irrigate their fields from groundwater or obtain loans using their equipment and potential harvest as collateral owe Glenn Coates a debt of gratitude, although he most likely would brush aside any praise.
Ask him, and he’ll say he was just a researcher doing what needed to be done, under the guidance of Professor Jake Beuscher, a well-loved and well-remembered mentor and a paragon of the University of Wisconsin Law School’s “law in action” credo.
Now retired, Coates (’49 LLB, ‘53 DLS) and his wife, Dolores, live in Racine and have made gifts to establish the Jake Beuscher/Coates Family Scholarship in the Law School.
“Jake was a fine teacher who knew how to motivate people. I was fortunate that he took a liking to me, I guess I’d say,” Coates said of his mentor, who died unexpectedly in 1967. “He was very interested in farm law, and I was born on a farm. That was what brought us together in the beginning.”
After taking and enjoying Beuscher’s class on equity in 1947, Coates saw a bulletin board message from the professor seeking someone to do research. Coates responded, wrote a law review piece and “one thing led to another.”
After graduating, Coates had an apprenticeship in Whitewater that didn’t work out, so he called Beuscher in the summer of 1949. “He had indicated there might be some further research opportunities, and he was working on a book on farm law,” Coates said. Beuscher secured Coates a grant from what was then the College of Agriculture to study law regarding irrigation in the potato growing area around Antigo. Coates found that landowners could legally tap groundwater if it was under their land.
The grant segued to a Carnegie Fellowship, and “then I went into the broader field of financing for farmers, using not land and mortgages but chattel property, personal property for collateralizing loans.” His thesis earned his doctorate and a further opportunity to help farmers.
“The Uniform Commercial Code was being developed by the American Law Institute, and I was probably the only person in the nation who knew anything about farming and law on that subject,” Coates said. “I was able to apply the commercial code to farm financing.”
His work there led to such changes as allowing dairy farmers to use their milk checks to secure loans and crop farmers to use anticipated harvests as collateral.
“It really was ‘law in action,’ traveling around the state talking to bankers and lawyers and seeing how they handled these things,” said Coates, who grew up on a dairy farm in Thorp, Wisconsin. “I went to law school because I didn’t want to stay on the farm. Nonetheless, thanks to Jake, I was able to adapt the law to farm needs.”
After a stint in Seattle, Coates joined a firm in Racine. Later, in 1989, he went to work for Racine Federated as an in-house attorney, his last position before retiring.
In establishing the Jake Beuscher/Coates Family Scholarship, in part through proceeds from the sale of Dolores’ family farm in Iowa, Glenn and Dolores Coates created a gift annuity, which gives them cash flow now and benefits the Law School later.
The scholarship will help meritorious students with need. “That is because of my own experience in Law School and how grateful I was to have a mentor like Jake Beuscher, who saw the need and thought I merited assistance,” Glenn Coates said. “I wanted that same criteria applied to people with need and their willingness to devote time and effort to their studies.”