WYANET — Judge C. Howard Wampler of Wyanet is being remembered as a judge who earned a person’s respect, with a strong commitment to the judicial system as well as a legendary sense of humor.
Wampler died Sept. 4 at Perry Memorial Hospital at the age of 79. He had served as Bureau County Resident Circuit Judge from 1974 to 1993.
Former Bureau County Resident Circuit Judge Terry Madsen was appointed to replace Wampler on the bench upon his retirement. Madsen said he didn’t know Wampler well, however through the years, he’s heard many stories about the judge who preceded him.
“I know he was loved and respected,” Madsen said. “He was creative, too. His humor was legendary. There were a lot of stories about him; I think he was somewhat of a jokester. I know he was respected by everyone.”
Madsen said he learned about Wampler’s creativity first-hand one day, when he (Madsen) was sitting on the bench and dropped something on the floor. When he bent over to pick it up, he noticed stacks of thick law books under the bench. Madsen asked the clerk why they were there. The clerk said since there wasn’t much security in the courthouse at the time, Wampler created his own security system. If someone came in the courtroom with a gun, Wampler’s alleged plan was to dive under the bench, where the stacks of thick law books would hopefully stop any stray bullets.
Gary Swanson, a retired Princeton Police officer, said Wampler was a man you respected.
“As a rookie police officer, my first impression was intimidation. His physical stature and demeanor in the courtroom intimidated you, but it definitely gave him the professional dominance in his courtroom,” Swanson said.
“Later, as we became friends, he was a pretty down-to-earth man with a sense of humor. Sometimes when events were tough in the courtroom he would ease the tension with a joke or two in his chambers,” Swanson said. “He was a man you respected not only as a judge but as a person, and he always knew you outside the courtroom.”
Bureau County Resident Circuit Judge Marc Bernabei also has fond memories of Wampler.
“I tried many cases before Judge Wampler,” Bernabei said. “I always found him to be friendly and a judge with a very sharp mind. He had a quick wit which I always enjoyed.”
Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson said he was a young law officer when Wampler was a young judge. There were times when the judge sternly addressed him when he (Thompson) was a witness in Wampler’s courtroom, and the judge did not always rule in favor of Thompson’s cases. But that didn’t change his opinion of the judge, Thompson said.
“I had the utmost respect for that man,” Thompson said. “He was such a wonderful strength in the judicial system. I was so respectful of the decisions he made. He was so intent on doing his best for the judicial system, for the community. I have many fond memories of him.”
In his mind, Judge Wampler stands out as a judge to be remembered, to serve as an example for other judges to follow, Thompson said.
“I think Judge Wampler is one of those people who leaves a lasting, positive impression on you. He was the kind of judge that many of our judges should strive for,” Thompson said. “He was a wonderful man, a wonderful judge.”
Services for Judge Wampler were held Monday at the Norberg Memorial Home in Princeton
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