For The Catholic Messenger
When she found herself weighing a job offer while nearing the end of law school, Amanda Elkins, a 2006 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, didn’t immediately call her parents. She did not consult with a law professor. She reached out, instead, to Rand Wonio, the longtime time Davenport attorney who fostered her interest in the law as the first-ever coach of the St. Ambrose Mock Trial team.
“I knew that Rand would steer me in the right direction,” she said. “Rand was larger than life. He was a great person and a great attorney.”
Wonio, a 1973 graduate of what was then known as St. Ambrose College, died in October 2015 at the age of 65 following a brief battle with cancer. His impact on his alma mater has resulted in the naming of a conference room in his honor in the newly opened Frank and Dorothy “Jane” Folwell Center for Political Science and Pre-Law on campus.
The center is located just south of the Rogalski Center and west of the townhouses. The interior of the longstanding brick house was remodeled over the summer with funds provided by the Folwell Endowed Chair for Political Science.
The Rand Wonio Conference Room is furnished through a gift in his memory from Lane & Waterman, the Quad-City law firm where Wonio worked for 38 years. He also served St. Ambrose in many ways, none more significantly than as the founding leader of the Mock Trial program.
“We loved and respected Rand in his role as a partner here,” said Mike Byrne, a partner with Lane & Waterman. “Rand loved trial work and he loved going to court and he wanted to help mentor college students in the practice of law and that’s why he got involved at his alma mater,” Byrne continued. “He was a mentor to me. He helped develop me as a lawyer as well as a lot of people around here.”
“The students really took to him,” said Bill Parsons, PhD, a professor and chair of the Political Science and Leadership Department. “He had a personality that was really easy to connect with. And as much as he coached those kids, he went beyond. He was all about trying to connect these kids to law schools and law firms.”
“When Rand died last fall, our community lost a consummate professional, his family lost a beloved patriarch, and St. Ambrose lost a dear alumnus and friend,” the university’s president, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, said during an Oct. 1 ceremony.
Now an assistant supervising attorney with the University of Iowa’s Student Legal Services, Elkins captained the 2006 Mock Trial team. It was SAU’s first team to advance to the national meet. At a post-event awards ceremony, Elkins recalled, an emcee referred to the “Bees from St. Ambrose.” “Rand yelled to the crowd of hundreds, ‘It’s the Fighting Bees!’” she recalled. “He was proud of the team and proud of the university.”