Madison - St. Clair Record

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Renowned attorney Lance Callis laid to rest, remembered as a 'good guy' and friend of the common man

Attorneys & Judges

By John Breslin | Sep 30, 2019

Lance Callis

F. Lance Callis, the well known Granite City attorney and co-founder of Alton Belle Casino's parent company Argosy Gaming Co., was "just a good guy to be around," and someone dedicated to the common man, friends remembered following his passing last week.

Callis, who was 84, died Wednesday at his home, ending a life that involved advocating for injured workers, supporting the Democratic Party, and successfully heading gambling and real estate businesses. 

He also was remembered as a family man - a father of four - and grandfather to numerous grand and great grandchildren.

Callis was laid to rest Saturday morning at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Belleville following a funeral service at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Granite City.

Partner at Callis, Papa, Hale, Szewczyk & Danzinger, P.C. until the end, Lance Callis was best known for representing injured railroad workers, hundreds of whom he helped over the years, partner John Papa said.

"What struck me at these services was that two gentlemen attended who were opponents of Mr. Callis in railroad litigation," Papa told the Record. "That was quite a testament to Lance's integrity and his notion of fair play that two of his 'enemies' attended his visitation, and stayed for an hour."

Papa, who first went to work for Callis while still at law school in 1973, said his partner was at the firm every day until close to the end of his life.

"Even in the last ten days of his life he would call here several times to keep abreast of what was going on," Papa said, adding that among those attending the services were former employees who developed enough of a connection to show a "debt of gratitude" by giving up their Satuday morning to spend time paying their respects.

Papa added, "(Lance) believed the practice of law was a method whereby you could right wrongs no matter what the situation...he had a big heart and a large intellect, and was extremely knowledgeable.

"He was dedicated to the common man."

Following his time working in the steel mills in Granite City, Callis attended college and graduated fom St. Louis University Law School in 1959. He returned to Granite City to begin his 60 year career as a trial lawyer.

During his career, he received numerous awards, including being named by the Illinois Bar Association as a Laureate of the Academy of Illinois Lawyers for his work over the decades.

Madison County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Ruth, who worked with Callis for nearly 18 years until joining the judiciary in the early 2000s, said he was "incredibly saddened" by the death of his former colleague.

"He was a wonderful boss," Ruth told the Record. "One of the most intelligent people working in the legal profession or any other job."

Ruth added,  "He cared about injured men and women, particularly railroaders injured in Madison County. He did other business but that was his specialty, railroad workers.

"He had a rapport with people in general, but particularly working people...(he was) affable but serious."

Ruth remembers Callis as a speed reader with a tremendous memory, a lawyer who, like any other who excels in the field, has to be prepared, but "mostly he had a good rapport" with people.

Callis was a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party over the decades, both as a financial backer and thinker, Ruth said.

"We enjoyed hanging out, ate lunch many a days, and he was always an avid political watcher," said Ruth. "He was just a good guy to be around."

Papa believes Callis gravitated towards the Democratic Party because of his upbringing in a working class neighborhood and his time in the steel mills.

"He learned a great deal about the common man in those circumstances, and worked shoulder to shoulder with people in the mills," Papa said, adding that his Irish-born mother was a trained nurse, and Lance was drawn to helping the working man.

The partner added, "The mantra of the firm was do not turn anyone away, whether divorce, medical negligence, auto accidents, product was a true open door policy if you had a legal problem."

Callis was also a successful businessman, particularly with Argosy. He sold his three percent share in the business for an estimated $41 million in 2004, according to business journal reports at the time.

His obituary noted that Callis was involved in "multiple philanthropic and charitable causes over the years, with particular emphasis on the Jesuits and St. Louis University Law School, establishing an endowed chair and full scholarships for exemplary students for their outstanding academic achievements." They are known as “Callis Scholars."

Callis was preceded in death by his wife, Joan M. Callis, nee Wegrzyn; and his parents, Felix Lancelot and Nora Teresa Callis, nee O’Halloran.

He is survived by his children, Mona S. (Dale Erspamer) Callis of Troy, IL, Ann E. (James Holloran) Callis of Troy, IL, Melissa Mary Callis of St. Jacob, IL and Phillip Lance Callis, of Granite City, IL; his grandchildren, Michael, Anna, Nora (Phil), Elliot, Caroline, Anna, Ava Rose, Juan Manuel and Brody; and his great-grandchildren.

Ann Callis is formr chief judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, which includes Madison and Bond counties. 

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