Civic servant Retired attorney served four terms as mayor of Ypsilanti

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Rod Hutchinson, who chose a law career to complement his keen interest in civic and political matters, can look back over a lifetime of service, not only to Michigan and Washtenaw County, but also to Ypsilanti, his home since 1937 until his recent move to Chelsea.

"Ypsilanti is my ancestral home," he says. "The first Hutchinson arrived in 1835 and my father Herbert was born there."

Hutchinson, born in 1919 in Cheboygan County, earned a bachelor of arts degree from Eastern Michigan University, then attended the University of Michigan Law School, graduating in 1949 -- when E. Blythe Stason was Dean of U-M Law, and Alexander Ruthven was U-M President.

"I enjoyed taking classes from professors who were masters in their field of law, such as Ralph Aigler in property law," Hutchinson says.

Hutchinson set up his practice in Ypsilanti, with a main focus on property and business law, and probate and estate planning.

"I enjoyed interacting with clients judges and lawyers and helping clients resolve their problems," he says.

A member of the Washtenaw County, Michigan and American Bar Associations and the American Trial Lawyers Association, Hutchinson served on the State Bar committee on municipal and traffic courts, whose principal function was to work for improvement of judicial administration in the lower courts.

In 1968, he was the first to throw his hat in the ring as a candidate for judge in the 14th District Court, and was joined on the ballot by Ypsilanti Municipal Judge Edward Deake; Circuit Court Commissioner Robert Fink, also from Ypsilanti; and Dexter area attorneys Thomas Shea and Patrick Conlin. Hutchinson won his spot in the November election. The new court, created by a bill signed into law by Gov. George Romney, replaced Justices of the Peace, Circuit Court Commissioners and most of the municipal courts in the state. The district, with three judges, covered the entire county excluding Ann Arbor.

Hutchinson ran for Washtenaw County Probate Court judge several times and in April 1967, came within 500 votes of election, losing in a tight race to Ross Campbell of Ann Arbor in a special election to fill a vacancy created when Judge John Conlin stepped up to the circuit court. In May 1969, Gov. Bill Milliken appointed Hutchinson to fill a vacancy on the Probate Court.

"The 1960s brought many changes," Hutchinson says. "Michigan adopted a new constitution; the Justice of the Peace system of the lower courts was abolished; and district courts were created with broader jurisdiction."

The new constitution gave the Michigan Supreme Court general superintending control of all Michigan courts -- leading to a coordinated effort to improve the administration of justice.

"It was my good fortune to serve during this period when many of the reforms were implemented," he says. "Improvements were made in both the handling of decedent and guardianship matters, and in mental health matters which provided more safeguards for persons subjected to mental health proceedings."

A member of the Ypsilanti City Council from 1954-60, Hutchinson served four one-year terms as mayor -- and in his first term, in 1955, was the youngest man to hold that office in the history of the city.

"I enjoyed learning how to guide a legislative body to arrive at a desired decision," he says.

Active in many community affairs, he served as president of the Ypsilanti Community Chest, Ypsilanti Jaycees and Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce; was an organizer and director of the Boys' Club of Ypsilanti; a director of Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County; and served on the Advisory Committee for Senior Citizens as well as the City Planning Commission.

He was also a driving force behind the establishment of the Ypsilanti Historical Committee in 1960, after the State Legislature passed Public Act 123 in 1957, making it possible for cities to raise and appropriate money to help activities that advanced historical interest in a community. Hutchinson served as the committee's first chairman; and continued to volunteer his time later in helping create archives for the Ypsilanti Historical Society. He and his wife also donated items, and paid for the preservation of antique 1890 and 1865 maps.

In 1956, Hutchinson was named the community's Outstanding Young Man by the Ypsilanti Jaycees and in 1964, was presented the Community Service Award by the Chamber of Commerce.

He and his wife Dorothy have two daughters, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. The couple now makes their home at Silver Maples of Chelsea Retirement Community in Chelsea.

"I enjoy socializing with other residents and the special activities, including the Wellness Center with the spa, pool and indoor track," he says.

Published: Tue, Jun 26, 2012