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A History of Success, A Future of Promise

Joel Ohlgren

​Halls of Fame

"Don't let your setbacks keep you from moving forward."

Joel Ohlgren, JD

In 1962, Joel was on the Dons football team that won its second consecutive Eastern Conference championship, and the college's third national title. Coach Homer Beatty also led the team to a perfect 10-0 record and a 20-0 wins over Columbia Basin in the Junior Rose Bowl.
But there were lessons in those wins that would take Joel to even greater success in life.
Joel explained, “Our team didn't have a super star so much as a whole lot of good players. Ed Arnold had played the previous year and established the building blocks that enabled us to succeed through team work. Team work is critical in my area of law, which is insolvency. It involves a lot of the principles we learned in football.”
Joel earned All-Eastern conference honors and was a junior college All-American honorable mention,  but these accolades are not as important as another lesson he learned on the road to that championship season: “In football, you must remember that only 10-25 percent of your plays work out the way you plan. You have to have a backup plan and, whatever happens, you have to move on. I saw that lesson also applies to life and I made a deal with myself: don't ever look back; always look forward.”
Joel also found this lesson useful in working through disappointments in plans to play football for Stanford University that did not work out, which brought him to Santa Ana College. “I came to SAC depressed and upset by circumstances, but at SAC I got my life together and I made life-long friends.”
A native of Minneapolis, Joel and his mother moved to Santa Ana where she had found employment and they could afford to buy a home about 18-20 blocks from the college.  “Mother was a widow, and I saw how carefully she managed money while I was a student at Santa Ana Valley High School.  I followed her example, never borrowed any money and came out of college and law school with no debt.”
Joel said this lesson was reinforced by “Nurse Pound, who taught a class called 'Health' that  emphasized simple, straight-forward principles that would make your life better. They made sense to me then, and I have followed them throughout my life. They covered your physical, financial, social and psychological health, and emphasized balance. For example, 'Eat breakfast every day' (to avoid starting the day with a glucose deficit that often triggers over-eating throughout the rest of the day), and 'save your money.' She was a big advocate of mutual funds.”
Joel graduated with an AA degree in economics in June 1963 and transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he received a B.A. in Economics in 1965. He received  a JD from the UCLA School of Law in 1968, where he was senior editor of the Law Review. From 1968-70 he taught law at the University of Malawi in Central Africa, where he was among the first faculty members.
In 1970, he joined the law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton. Although he is now “officially” retired, he is still Of Counsel in their offices in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife, Nancy Even.  His areas of practice are bankruptcy, creditors' rights, complex bankruptcy litigation, international insolvency issues, and commercial law.
He served as a member of the International Insolvency Institute delegation to the United Nations Commission on International Trade in 2006 and 2007. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Insolvency Institute, and he has been a chair of the American College of Bankruptcy Foundation since 2008. He is a 1993 Fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy.
While his memberships are numerous, and his accolades impressive, most impressive of all is his concern for those who lack knowledge about basic economics and who do not know how to handle finances, credit, and debt. “Nurse Pound emphasized that you have to take care of your financial health just as you do your physical health,” he said.
Using his knowledge of finance and bankruptcy, Joel developed a program to teach high school seniors taking classes in economics how to manage money and avoid credit card abuse.
“My economics teacher at SAC urged me to take at least three accounting classes; those classes, and my economics classes, really helped me do well in upper division classes at UCLA and in my career.
“Insolvency comes down to fundamentals, many of which I learned in my accounting class at Santa Ana College: where is the money? How much is coming in, how much is going out?”
Achieving balance means that life is not all about getting, but also about giving back, and Joel has always found time to be involved in his community. As a volunteer assistant coach, between the 1990-2001 seasons he helped lead the Brentwood Eagles Varsity Football Team to three CIF Championships and twice runners up.  He is a member of Men Against Domestic Violence and supports the Santa Barbara agency Domestic Violence Solutions. He also is a member of the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, a group that has weekly lunches honoring high school and college athletes in Santa Barbara and provides financial support for local athletic programs.
Always a team player, Joel is eager to talk about others who have contributed to his success, including former SAC professor John G. Schmitz. “He was a colorful character who graduated from Marquette University, a Jesuit school, and he taught philosophy using simple stories like that of Procrustes told by the ancients to illustrate a point. When I was arguing a case in court, I used the same tactic to characterize situations, just as Jesus used parables, which are simple stories designed to stay in your memory.
“I not only remember the material I was taught at Santa Ana College, I remember interacting with  instructors like my economics teacher, Nurse Pound and Professor Schmitz. And when I learned team work from Coach Beatty, I learned that there is no limit to what one may accomplish if one does not care who takes the credit.”