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Blind Man Practiced Law Until Death at 99

December 14, 1989

NASHWAUK, Minn. (AP) _ Attorney M.B. ″Ben″ Rustan tried to negotiate a 20-year lease for his law office back in 1981, when he was 91 years old.

When he turned 99, he told a bank cashier he wanted to buy the longest term certificates of deposit possible.

Rustan expected to be practicing law July 4, on his 100th birthday.

But the man who hung his law shingle in this Iron Range town of northwestern Minnesota in 1918 died Sunday of a heart seizure.

What made Rustan’s achievements even more remarkable was the fact he was blind. His eyes were removed when he was 5 as the result of spinal meningitis. He wore glasses with frosted lenses.

But no one seems to mention his blindness until they’ve talked about how dedicated to his job he was, how meticulous in dress he was, how serious he was. He couldn’t be considered an elder statesman because he never retired. But he garnered that type of respect. It was appropriate that his home address was 1 First St.

Rustan suffered the seizure, his first serious one, Nov. 28 in a car on his way to work with his secretary.

He was buried Wednesday.

″He certainly was a credit to his profession,″ longtime friend Nick Dasovich told The Duluth News-Tribune. ″There’s one word to describe him: sharp. Age didn’t take a toll on his mind.″

″In all the years that he practiced law, to the best of my knowledge, he never had a dissatisfied client, much less a malpractice claim,″ said District Judge John A. Spellacy of nearby Grand Rapids. ″Even had he not been blind, he would have been considered an outstanding lawyer in all departments.″

″He never thought of himself as old; maybe that was his secret,″ said Vicky Shofner, Rustan’s secretary the past 17 years.

Shofner said her boss worked a 40-hour week and checked into the office on Saturdays and Sundays.

Rustan worked mainly in real estate transactions, transfers of deeds and titles. When he went to the courtroom, he took Braille notes with a slate and stylus, a pick-like instrument that punches holes in paper held by the slate. He dictated his documentation to Shofner.

Herb Latvala, president of First National Bank, worked with Rustan on many matters.

″I think the greatest service he provided for people around here were that his fees were so reasonable,″ Latvala said. ″He never overcharged anyone. People will miss him for many reasons.″

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