Professor James R. Ahrens Passes Away
Washburn Law is saddened by the passing of Professor James R. Ahrens who taught at the law school from 1948 to 1988. Professor Ahrens passed away quietly on his 94th birthday, Friday, June 7, 2013, surrounded by family.
Professor Ahrens was born in 1919. He grew up in India, the son of Presbyterian missionaries. Upon graduation from high school in India, he returned to the United States and attended the University of Chicago where he received his undergraduate (1942) and law (1948) degrees. Prior to being recruited to teach at Washburn, Ahrens had been a briefing officer at Forbes Air Base during World War II and so was already familiar with Topeka and the law school. Professor Ahrens spent his first 20 years at Washburn Law teaching two required courses, Torts and Constitutional Law, meaning that he came in contact with every law student at least twice.
Professor Ahrens sponsored the Moot Court Council from 1951 to 1964 and took five teams to the finals. He inaugurated the First Annual Law Institute in 1956, establishing a continuing education program for alumni and other lawyers. Professor Ahrens wrote a number of articles during his career, including "Erie v. Tompkins--The Not So Common Law" which appeared in the first volume of the Washburn Law Journal.
A lawsuit was filed in 1973 by Professor Ahrens, seeking to enjoin bombing in Cambodia by the Nixon administration. He cited lack of constitutional authority, having "felt for a long time that Presidents have been overstepping their bounds in regard to executive privilege."
In 1974 Professor Ahrens was recognized as a Washburn University School of Law Alumni Association honorary life member. He was honored in 1986 when the Wichita law firm of Michaud & Hutton made a $1,000,000 commitment to Washburn Law to endow the James R. Ahrens Professorial Chair in Tort Law. This gift, at the time, was the largest ever made to the law school.
Upon his retirement in 1988 Ahrens' children arranged for the Topeka High School band to lead a parade in his honor through the Washburn University campus for him and his wife Marge. One daughter held a sign, "40 Years In Ahrens' Wilderness." Mayor Doug Wright, '73, proclaimed the day "Professor James R. Ahrens Day" in Topeka.
When he retired, Professor Ahrens' message to students was "Pay less attention to exam taking techniques ... Learn your rules and know when to apply them. Be willing to spend a lot of time synthesizing them. Have a check list of every rule in law. After one course, you have 20 pages of law, and then you memorize them. The way to heavenly bliss in the law is a lot of work!"
Professor James Concannon observes in his history of Washburn Law that "Few people demonstrated greater commitment to the school than Professor Ahrens. Until the size of the graduating classes became too large, Ahrens and his first wife Geri annually hosted a brunch at their home for graduating seniors. They regularly attended student social functions and dances. Throughout his lengthy retirement, he regularly attended class reunions of his former students and other Law School events and was an active participant in discussions at Ahrens Chair in Tort Law Seminars."
See also the Summer 1988 Circuit Rider article "Distinguished Professor of Law James R. Ahrens Reflects on 40 Years."
Obituary Published in Topeka Capital-Journal on June 9, 2013
Professor James Robert Ahrens, son of Presbyterian missionaries Martin R. and Lisetta Ahrens, was born June 7, 1919 in St. Louis, Missouri. He died June 7, 2013 at Topeka Presbyterian Manor. He was raised with eight siblings in Northern India, graduating from Woodstock High School in the Himalayas. He attended Wooster College and received his JD from the University of Chicago School of Law after serving as an officer in the Army/Air Force Intelligence Corps in China during WWII. He married Geraldine H. Keske on September 27, 1942 in Denver, Colorado. She preceded him in death.
Professor Ahrens taught at Washburn University School of Law from 1948-1988. During his tenure he designed the Washburn Law Institute, and served as the faculty advisor for the Washburn Moot Court Team, taking teams to National Finals. He initiated comparative law programs specifically for Yugoslavia and England. Professor Ahrens was named Washburn Distinguished Professor of Law and received honors including a Law School endowment in tort law in his name.
He married Margaret Cernohous Post on June 14, 1982. She survives. Jim is also survived by sister, Fredericka Cobren of Alexandria, VA and brother, Martin Ahrens of Edinburgh, Scotland. His surviving children are Martha E. Miller, Martin Ahrens (Carolyn Szafran Ahrens), Barbara Jackson (Dr. Michael Jackson), Jane Weidling (Frank Weidling), Anton Ahrens (Susan Stickley), and Dr. Julia Ahrens (R. Thomas Wolf). His surviving stepchildren are Dr. Christopher Post (Dr. Yelena Mikhailova) and Leelannee Post. Jim was the grandfather of 21 grandchildren, great-grandfather to seven great-grandchildren and uncle of numerous nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Jim's life and faith will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1275 SW Boswell, Topeka, Kansas. Burial will follow in Mount Hope Cemetery. Mr. Ahrens will lie in state after 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday at Penwell-Gabel Mid-Town Chapel, 1321 SW 10th, Topeka, Kansas, where the family will receive friends from 5:00-7:00 p.m.
The family requests memorials in lieu of flowers to the Ahrens Endowed Law Fund c/o Washburn University Foundation, 1729 SW MacVicar, Topeka, Kansas 66604 or the Ahrens Fund at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1275 SW Boswell, Topeka, Kansas 66604. To leave a special message for the family online, please visit www.PenwellGabelTopeka.com.
Burial will follow in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Professor Ahrens will lie in state after 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday at Penwell-Gabel Mid-Town Chapel, 1321 SW 10th, Topeka, Kansas, where the family will receive friends from 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Contributions in memory of Professor Ahrens can be made to the Ahrens Endowed Law Fund c/o Washburn University Foundation, 1729 MacVicar, Topeka, Kansas 66604, or contact Joel Lauer at (785) 670-1702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.