Jerry Pollard

Jerry Pollard, a Yankton attorney who passed away last week at age 65, is pictured with Sally Opfer, a legal assistant at the Cedar County (Nebraska) Attorney’s office.

Despair soon turned into a chuckle for Joe Trudeau.

As he watched his son play in a high school football game years ago in Elk Point, Trudeau roared with delight as his son crossed the goal line after returning a punt for a touchdown.

That’s when everyone saw the yellow flag lying on the field.

As he quickly realized, Trudeau’s good friend, Jerry Pollard, was the official who threw the flag. Apparently, Trudeau’s son had made a brief signal for a fair catch, which thereby negated the return and the touchdown.

“We had some fun about that for a long time,” Trudeau joked.

The two men and their families were so close, in fact, that it was likely hard for Pollard to throw a flag on someone who was essentially like a nephew, according to Trudeau.

“Jerry was a pretty amazing man,” said Trudeau, a retired farmer who lives in Jefferson.

Pollard, a former University of South Dakota football standout in the 1970s and a long-time attorney in Yankton, passed away last week at age 65.

In addition to his law practice, Pollard was known by his friends as someone who was devoted to his community. He served as a youth sports coach, as a football and basketball official, and was a long-time volunteer for the Hansen-Haas youth basketball tournament.

Pollard was also an avid USD fan and was a regular visitor to football games with his “Coyote brotherhood.”

It all dates back to his football playing days, which began at USD in the fall of 1971. Pollard, a native of Clarks, Nebraska, got to know Trudeau, a Jefferson native.

The two small-town boys hit it off.

“Right off the bat, too,” Trudeau said.

Other than the fact that Trudeau was a couple years older than Pollard, the two were alike in many ways: They were both multisport athletes while in high school (Pollard played football and wrestled), and they each understood what it meant to be teased by an older brother — Pollard was the youngest of four boys and Trudeau was the oldest of six children.

On the football field, Trudeau was a standout tight end for the Coyotes from 1969-73, while Pollard became a standout lineman from 1971-75.  Trudeau was an all-conference tight end in 1971 and 1972, and Pollard became one of the league’s top offensive lineman for a USD program that shared the North Central Conference title from 1972-74 under head coach Joe Salam.

“Coach was so good at making us a strong team together,” Trudeau said.

Following his graduation from USD in 1976, Pollard served as a teacher and coach at Norfolk Catholic High School in Norfolk, Nebraska. In 1979, he entered the USD Law School and graduated in 1982.

Pollard was eventually inducted into USD’s Coyote Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, six years after Trudeau was enshrined.

The bond between Trudeau and Pollard stayed strong following their football careers, as well. Their wives were in the same sorority house (the families traveled many times together) and both men eventually had a child get diagnosed with diabetes — which Trudeau said strengthened their bond.

“We’ve been able to lead our kids along and they’ve all lived very successful lives,” Trudeau said.

Pollard married his college sweetheart, Marti Johnson, in August 1976, and they eventually had three children: Michael, Kasia and Eric.

‘THE GREAT ONE’

For nearly three decades, Sally Opfer reserved a rare designation for her friend, Jerry Pollard.

He was “The Great One.”

Opfer, the legal assistant at the Cedar County (Nebraska) Attorney’s office, met Pollard 26 years ago when he was representing her opposition in a civil proceeding. They didn’t really get to know each other all that well until two years later, but Opfer said she quickly realized why Pollard was well respected in the legal community.

“In all my years, I don’t recall hearing anyone ever say that they didn’t like Jerry,” Opfer said. “Quite the opposite, he was admired and respected. … He had a gift for taking legal word salads and explaining them to clients in an understandable manner.”

For nearly four decades, Pollard practiced law in Yankton, first at the C.E. Light Law Office and later the firm of Kabeiseman, Hosmer, and Kettering. In 2002, Pollard and John Kabeiseman formed Kabeiseman & Pollard Law, and following Kabeiseman’s passing, Pollard continued the firm and molded many young lawyers.

Through his work, Pollard would often work cases across the border in Cedar County, and Opfer said she and former County Attorney George Hirschbach (who retired in 2018) would get excited when they would see Pollard’s name on the docket.

“Our giddiness reached ridiculous levels as I’d announce ‘Jerry’s in the building’ to George as I’d see him stroll past the window to check in with the court office,” Opfer said.

“George would leap from his chair and say ‘Oh, I gotta go see him,’ and he’d head out the door to find him.”

Pollard practiced criminal defense and civil law, and served as the city attorney for Gayville, Volin, Utica and Fordyce, Nebraska. His legal practice ranged from drafting simple deeds and defending traffic tickets to conducting million-dollar transactions and working murder trials.

Not only was Pollard a “client whisperer,” he was an “opposing counsel whisperer” and a “judge whisperer,” according to Opfer.

“He just had this way about him,” Opfer said. “It was something that couldn’t be learned; it was just who he was.”

The last time Opfer got the chance to sit down and talk with Pollard was in May 2019, she said, when he came to Hartington. Opfer called Hirschbach to the office and they all sat around talking and then had lunch together.

“We shared all kinds of stories; funny and serious,” Opfer said. “I miss Jerry Pollard.”

‘Never Hesitated To Help’

Pollard was also active in the local sports scene, as a former wrestling, softball, baseball and football coach, and as a football and basketball referee for 18 years.

He donated his time as an official for the Hansen-Haas youth basketball tournament, and both avenues — football referee and with the youth tournament — are where Curt Roth got to know Pollard.

“You could tell that was just a part of who he was; that he never hesitated to help,” said Roth, a past president of Yankton Basketball, Inc. (YBI), which hosts the annual Hansen-Haas youth basketball tournament.

“When I got involved scheduling refs, I knew Jerry was someone I wouldn’t have to call ahead of time. I could call the week of, and he’d say, ‘I’m available whenever you need me.’”

When Pollard would be done officiating a youth game during the tournament, he would usually hang around afterward and talk with other volunteers or officials, Roth added.

“He was always a soft-spoken guy, but always willing to have a conversation with you about anything,” Roth said.

A group of Pollard’s friends were able to see him just before he passed away, according to Trudeau. Although Pollard was unconscious, his friends were thankful they got to see him one final time, Trudeau added.

“It was pretty moving,” Trudeau said.

During the course of the evening, Trudeau got the opportunity to have one last talk with his close friend, he said.

“I don’t know if he heard me. That’s for Jerry and the Lord to know,” Trudeau added.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter.

(1) comment

Frank Kloucek

Jerry Pollard was one of the nicest, most sincere gentlemen I have ever met.

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