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Cooley Law School Celebrates 50 Years with Gala Celebration

WMU-Cooley Law School graduates, law students, administration, faculty, staff from the past and present, and friends of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School gathered on Saturday, June 17, to celebrate the law school’s 50th anniversary. The gala event took place at the Marriott East Lansing at University Place.


Polly Brennan

During the gala, members of the first three graduating classes were honored, as were Polly Brennan, widow of the late Thomas E. Brennan Sr., former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and founder of the law school; and Marylynn Curtis Bain, Cooley’s senior director of enrollment data systems.

The evening began with remarks from the Hon. Louise Alderson, retired judge of the Michigan 54B District Court and Cooley graduate who is chair of the law school’s board of directors. Alderson expressed her gratitude to all those who have contributed to the success of the law school and to help look forward toward the future success of those who follow in the footsteps of the past and current law school leaders.


I see so many familiar faces. Individuals with whom I shared the trials and tribulations of law school, as well as others with whom I have collaborated to strengthen and improve the legal system in the state of Michigan and in our country,” said Alderson. “Each and every person in this room has, in their own way, contributed to the impact our law school has made on legal education and the legal profession over the last five decades. Our graduates have gone on to become outstanding lawyers, judges, policymakers, and leaders in the profession and in their communities around the country and around the world,” Alderson continued.

Cooley President and Dean James McGrath joined Alderson to recognize members of Cooley’s first three graduating classes and present honorary alumnus status to Curtis Bain, and bestow an honorary Juris Doctor degree upon Polly Brennan.

While honoring members of the law school’s first three graduating classes, McGrath said, “It is only fitting that we begin our special recognitions with those graduates here tonight who were the very first students to pursue their legal education at Cooley.”

Gala images

Those recognized from the first class, which started in January 1973 (Thomas M. Cooley Class) included: James Bonfiglio, Al Dalimonte, William Ferrigan, James Heos, Larry Nolan, Jerry Sutton, and Jeff Swartz.

Members of the law school’s second class (Campbell Class) included: Richard Ball, Douglas Dosson, John Fields, and Peter Kennedy.

Bernie Finn, member of Cooley’s Fletcher Class was also recognized. Members of the Fletcher class actually started as members of the first two classes, but modified their credit loads and finished as the school’s third graduating class.

For the first time in Cooley’s history, Curtis Bain was presented with an Honorary Alumni Award. Curtis Bain started working at the law school during its first year of operation in 1973.

“Marylynn wore so many hats during the critical early days and beyond,” said McGrath. “Over the years she has been a pillar of the institution. Her decades of service helped transform the school. She has seen the best of days as well as our challenging days. Her steadfast commitment, work ethic, and ‘get’er done’ approach is appreciated and valued.’’

McGrath noted that Curtis Bain has been instrumental in ensuring the student information systems, financial aid systems, enrollment systems, and exam administration systems are running effectively.

Gala images

While presenting Polly Brennan with the honorary Juris Doctor, McGrath said, “In the world of academia, one of the highest honors a college, school, or university can bestow is an honorary degree. She (Brennan) is one person, other than Judge Brennan, who is truly responsible for the establishment, formation, and launching of the law school.”

The resolution conferring the degree upon Brennan noted, “Her tireless devotion to the success of not only the school but also of those students who sought to pursue their dreams of becoming an attorney proved instrumental in the law school becoming an accredited institution with a proud legacy of ensuring broad access to legal education. And Whereas, in serving as the law school’s first employee, Mrs. Brennan provided leadership and adept administrative skill in numerous roles and capacities that would eventually require multiple individuals to complete. 

In the process, she helped establish a culture centered on personalized attention and exceptional service and one in which each individual is valued and appreciated for the role they played in the success of the overall institution. 

“And Whereas, Mrs. Brennan has, throughout her life, demonstrated a ceaseless commitment to the high moral character and values expected of students and graduates of Thomas M. Cooley Law School and those who devote themselves to the practice of law. 

“She has served as a role model and matriarch within her family, within Cooley Law School, and in the broader community.”

McGrath concluded by saying, “Mrs. Brennan, thank you for all that you have done for Cooley over the last 50 years, and for helping launch the legal careers of more than 21,000 graduates.”


Jun 22 2023