By Kendra Hennis
One of the things that Tuscola always does well is giving honor to those who have served. The morning began with a breakfast for Veterans provided by TCHS FFA. Then students from East Prairie and the High School gathered in the high school gym to have a Veteran’s Day assembly. This years keynote speaker is Sami Anderson who created Wills for Soldiers, a program that provides legal assistance in the preparation of Wills and Powers of Attorney for soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan on a pro bono basis.
Sami Anderson’s legal career began in the year 2000, when working towards her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice at Illinois State University, she began an internship with a local Champaign attorney. Upon completing this internship, Sami was hired by the Attorney with whom she interned for, as his Legal Assistant. The transition from an intern to an employee in a law office was designed to provide Sami with the experience and the knowledge of the inner workings and daily tasks of an attorney, so that a determination could be made as to whether she would continue on the path to become an attorney. As it turned out, working as a Legal Assistant did influence Sami’s decisions with regards to her professional trajectory as she enrolled in Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2004 and made the move to Grand Rapids, Michigan, leaving behind the home and community that she had known since 1994. Sami chose Thomas M. Cooley Law School because it offered a flexible class schedule, which would allow her to continue her employment remotely.
In March of 2005, Sami married Garrett Anderson, a native of Bellflower, Illinois while he was home on leave and in May of that year, Garrett deployed to Iraq. Garrett’s Orders stated that he was scheduled for an eighteen-month deployment and it was anticipated Sami would graduate from Law school in December of 2006, seven months after her husband’s scheduled return.
October 2005, would be the month that would radically transform Sami’s life and the life of her husband, Garrett. During her second year of law school, Sami was notified that Garrett had been severely wounded in action. There were no further details provided, only information as to when Garrett was expected to be stateside. Within hours of receiving this news, Sami began the long drive to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she would eventually meet the helicopter that transported Garrett to the hospital. Sami was immediately told that because of the severity of Garrett’s injuries, the loss of his right arm, severe facial and head wounds, Garrett would be hospitalized at Walter Reed for at least one year. In the span of days, Sami had to make the decision as to either return to her Fall Semester in law school or to withdraw from the already half completed semester. To Sami, this decision was easy. She chose her husband. This easy choice did come with risks, Thomas M. Cooley Law School informed Sami that she would have to begin her studies again.
While living with Garrett at Walter Reed, Sami was introduced to a volunteer who happened to be a retired Administrative Law Judge for the Department of Veterans Affairs. During one of their many conversations, the retired judge asked Sami whether her plans included returning to law school. Sami shared with him her intentions of remaining by Garrett’s side during his recovery and how the care Garrett needed and her work schedule consumed most if not all of her waking hours. A few days later the retired judge spoke to Sami again and declared a seat had been secured for her at Columbus School of Law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and in a moment of divine intervention, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, who had a “no visiting” student policy, granted Sami a visiting student status for the Spring of 2006 semester.
In January of 2006, Sami became a full-time student at Columbus School of Law. Sami’s days and nights were consumed with attending classes, completing course work, working remotely for the law office in Champaign, and being a caregiver to and an advocate for, her husband, Garrett.
With Garrett’s discharge from Walter Reed in May 2006, Sami and Garrett returned to Champaign. After transitioning her family back into civilian life and life as a family living with disabilities, Sami began the Summer Semester at Thomas M. Cooley Law School as a full-time student. This required making weekly trips to Michigan to attend classes in addition to the 32 hours per week she clerked for the law office in Champaign. In the Fall of 2006, Sami and Garrett welcomed their daughter and she, too, would travel each weekend to Michigan so Sami could attend classes.
In May of 2007, Sami graduated with her law degree from Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. She sat for the bar that summer and was sworn in as an attorney in November of 2007.
After becoming a licensed attorney, Sami continued to work for the attorney in Champaign and in March of 2008, Sami opened a private practice that continues to be one of the most successful law offices in the area.
Based upon her own experiences with securing benefits for her husband, Garrett, Sami has provided legal services to injured veterans and their families, on a pro bono basis and has successfully secured disability benefits for her client’s through the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Disability.
In 2008, Sami created a program, Wills for Soldiers, and provided legal assistance in the preparation of Wills and Powers of Attorney for soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan on a pro bono basis.
In an effort to provide continued support for families and soldiers, Sami became the
Family Readiness Group Leader for the Illinois National Guard for the year-long deployment, 2008-2009, deployment to Afghanistan. Sami’s continued work was recognized when she was awarded the Minuteman Award which is the highest civilian award granted by the National Guard for Volunteer Services. Sami Anderson was also the 2015 Illinois Fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation for the Advocacy of Veterans and Caregivers.
Sami resides in rural Champaign County with Garrett and their daughters, Skyler and Alex.