The History of Holmstrom & Kennedy
Holmstrom & Kennedy, P.C. is a unique law firm and has been recognized as one of the founding members of Rockford's 100 year old Chamber of Commerce. While much has changed over the years, our firm’s commitment to its clients and the community has remained the hallmark of our approach to practicing law.
We trace our firm’s lineage back more than a century to R.K. Welsh, who established his office in the Trust Building in downtown Rockford in 1889. Mr. Welsh graduated from Beloit College in 1887. Upon moving to Rockford, he became the first assistant to the principal of Rockford High School and served on the Rockford Board of Education. In recognition of his commitment to education, a public school in Rockford now bears his name.
While working as an educator, Mr. Welsh also studied the law. He was admitted to the Illinois Bar in May of 1889, and began a private practice shortly thereafter. In 1891 he was elected City Attorney and later served as corporate counsel.
After 28 years of practice, Mr. Welsh had established an outstanding reputation as both an attorney and a community minded citizen. He also had built the largest legal practice in Rockford, along with a law library which was reputedly unparalleled in Illinois outside of Cook County.
In October of 1917, Mr. Welsh was elected to a judgeship in the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit, which at that time consisted of Boone, Winnebago, McHenry and Lake Counties. He served with distinction until 1923, at which time he resigned to enter private practice with his sons, forming the law firm of Welsh & Welsh and opening an office at State and Main in Rockford.
Welsh & Welsh flourished for decades based upon the Welsh family’s superb reputation. Their success attracted another talented lawyer, a young John Holmstrom, Jr., who joined the firm in 1948 after graduating from the University of Illinois. In the years that followed, John Holmstrom assumed leadership of the firm, while becoming renowned statewide as a lawyer of exceptional ability, conscience and judgment.
By November of 1961, after 72 years of practicing at the State and Main location, Welsh & Welsh changed its name to Welsh, Welsh & Holmstrom and moved its practice to 800 North Church Street, known to many in Rockford as the historic Rutledge House. For more information about the Rutledge House, please click here.
In the decades that followed, the firm grew and its name changed a number of times. Finally, in 1989, upon merging with the law practice of John Foran Kennedy, it became known as Holmstrom & Kennedy. Throughout years of change, Holmstrom & Kennedy always held fast to its core values as a result of the strong leadership of John Holmstrom. Although Mr. Holmstrom is now deceased, it is difficult to overstate the continuing impact of his vision and ideals on our firm.
In 2000, John Holmstrom’s distinguished career was honored when he was one of only twelve Illinois lawyers named to the Academy of Illinois Lawyers’ inaugural class of Laureates. The purpose of the Academy, established by the Illinois State Bar Association, is to enhance the honor and dignity of the Bar of Illinois by recognizing lawyers who personify the highest ideals of the legal profession. In the July 2000 Edition of the Illinois State Bar Journal, Thomas S. Johnson, then the Chancellor of the Academy, had this to say about John Holmstrom and Holmstrom & Kennedy.
John T. Holmstrom, Jr. has won every recognition that a grateful community can bestow: the Excaliber Award, given to only one person each year for a lifetime's service to the community, the Lathrop Medal, which his local bar association has awarded only four times in 100 years for legal statesmanship; an award of merit of this Association as one of the founders and a tireless promoter of the law-focused education program established in high schools across the state.
For over half a century, he has provided leadership to the organized bar, has served the interest of his clients with high integrity, and has enthusiastically shared his skills with countless civic and charitable organizations. And through it all, he has remained warm, straightforward, and the very model of probity and judgment.
In recalling his years of devotion to the profession and the public, it would be easy to dwell on specific achievements, since there have been so many and since they have added a brighter luster to the practice of law - but more important is his warm, human quality and a special kind of gallantry that has brought joy to so many.
Generosity of spirit, kindness toward others, and unassuming friendliness are all qualities that came from deep within him and have contributed so perceptibly to his quiet influence on the lives of people and his lasting influence on the law firm that bears his name.
That firm, Holmstrom & Kennedy in Rockford, plays a unique role in its community-not merely because it is the oldest and one of the best firms in town, but also because of its corporate culture, a legacy of its founders. In this time when so many law firms seem to be governed solely by arithmetic and are almost Darwinian in nature, firms like Holmstrom & Kennedy remain an influence for good in our profession. Firms where collegiality still exists, where public service is part of everyone's job description, where the quiet influence of those who have gone before still prevails, all proving the truth of Emerson's observation that "every institution is the lengthened shadow of one man."
Today, Holmstrom & Kennedy, P.C. continues to uphold the proud tradition of R.K. Welsh and John Holmstrom, Jr. Lawyers at this firm are committed not only to the practice of law, but to community involvement and public service. It is no coincidence that Holmstrom & Kennedy attorneys donate considerable time each year to charitable work, are active in Bar Associations and other professional groups, and continue to thrive in the Northern Illinois community. At Holmstrom & Kennedy we are proud of our past, and look forward to what the next century will bring us.