On this episode of Uncommon Convos Dennis talks with long time friend and entrepreneur, Andy Sallee. He it the epitome of the rags to riches story. Andy came from very humble beginnings living in various trailer parks moving around often when he was young. He has built a amazing real-estate empire and continues to educate himself, attend mastermind events. Andy defines success as having freedom in time. Freedom to come and go as you please and do what you want. The biggest thing he can teach young entrepreneurs is pick one lane and go all in. Spreading yourself too thin will make it hard for you to get good at any one thing.
Welcome to Uncommon Convos!
Join us for interesting conversations with interesting people as we discuss life, fun, and the various aspects of the human experience. In this introductory episode we are introduced to the host, Dennis VanDerGinst, as we find out a little bit more about his background, and what you can expect from listening to this show!
In This Episode
- An introduction to Uncommon Convos
- Dennis’ past businesses and previous jobs
- A “rich” childhood
- An aspiration to be a history teacher
- The LSAT bet
- Dennis’ attorney mentor
- THAT time Dennis got arrested
- Finding a career focus
- VanDerGinst Laws mission
- Our hope for the future of Uncommon Convos
- The meaning behind Dennis’ strange signoff
Full Episode Transcript
Hi, everyone, thank you for tuning in. I’m Dennis VanDerGinst and welcome to the introductory episode of Uncommon Convos.
We want to cover all aspects of the human experience. What makes people laugh? What makes life more interesting? As a lawyer, I’ll likely throw in a bit of legal information here and there just to generate some intriguing conversations.
And we’re going to have a lot of amazing guests and co-hosts, including regional and national celebrities and experts on just about every topic under the sun. Interesting and entertaining people talking about interesting and entertaining subjects.
But today we’re not going to talk about anything interesting. We’re going to talk about me.
No. We’re going to introduce you to our format and share a little bit about me so that you can have some understanding of who I am and where my perspective on things come from.
First, I’m an attorney. My focus is almost exclusively personal injury law. I’ve handled cases in almost every state in the country. But like most people, my path to where I’m at has not been direct.
I’ve been an owner or investor in a lot of other businesses, including a real estate company, talent agency, beauty pageants, restaurants, an advertising agency, a seminar series, so on and so forth.
The bottom line is I come with a wide and strange breadth of experience, as well, I’m sure, as a lot of baggage. I’m the eldest of four siblings. I was the first in my family to attend college and the first and only one in my family to go to law school. I come from a humble background.
My parents weren’t well-to-do. Growing up I was acutely aware of that and somewhat embarrassed at times, because as we all know, kids can be can be cruel. And sometimes I felt like our inability to keep up with the Joneses was something that we were made fun of. But reflecting back, I realized that we actually had an embarrassment of riches because we had a close and loving family and lots of laughs.
Even though we struggled financially, there was joy in our house and my parents were always extremely supportive and proud of my brothers, my sister and I. And even though they couldn’t necessarily give us a lot in the way of material things, they were always there giving us their love and support in anything we did. And I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but that upbringing was the foundation of everything I am and everything I do now.
I learned to value people much more than money. I learned to listen with my heart and not just my ears, which, you know, are kind of big. So I can hear a lot. But I learned that there were important things worth fighting for. And you didn’t back down just because the fight was hard. These are all lessons that have been important, not just in my life, but also in my career.
Like I said, the route hasn’t been direct to my current practice. To see me now you’d probably find it hard to believe, but I used to be that skinny, gangly kid who was bullied and made fun of largely because of these appendages on the side of my head. They looked even larger on that skinny frame. So I was constantly teased about being Dumbo or Mickey Mouse or whatever it might be. Which was hard and it was hard to take as a kid.
And I think because of that, I buried my head deep in books and I’d retreat to these magical worlds where, you know, those of us who were picked on ultimately became heroes who protected others. At that time of my life, I was also going to Catholic school. And I know there are lots of horror stories about nuns and priests and that whole school scene, but fortunately for me, my experience was extremely positive, not just from the perspective of book learning, but also in the ways that I learned to empathize with other people and learned the important lessons of compassion and understanding.
And it’s with that backdrop that I grew up.
My dad was always quite a disciplinarian, and my brothers and I certainly didn’t get away with a lot, unlike our baby sister, 17 years younger than me, who got away with everything. But in any event, because of that, by the time I got to college, I wanted to experience everything.
And despite a lot of self-sabotage related to trying to try everything and enjoy myself a bit too much, I did pretty well. And I put myself through college with a combination of scholarships, loans, and work.
I worked some really odd jobs. I was a recreation therapist aid for a mental health facility. I was a park leader, lifeguard, a pizza maker, D.J., a bouncer, a bartender.
Sometimes I’d hold three or four of those positions at one time. And always, even with all those jobs, it was hard to make things, make ends meet financially. You know, we might not have enough money for rent or food, my my college roommates and I, that is, but we always had enough money for beer.
Anyway, having no family members attend college before me, I really wasn’t sure what my path was going to be. I didn’t know what kind of major I should choose. I started off as a journalism major. Then I switched to psychology and sociology, but ultimately settled on history. But what do you do with the history major other than maybe teach?
So that’s kind of the path I chose. I had some great teachers and coaches who had been my role models and my mentors. Many of them are still in my life and I definitely thought, you know, teaching would be an admirable profession.
So that’s the path I was on until something happened that was one of those life altering things that occur in the most random of ways. This was during college. I had some friends who were intending to go to law school and they had taken the law school admissions test.
It’s the results from that test, along with some other things that determine if you’re going to get into law school and if you’re going to get scholarships and all that type of thing. Well, anyway, my friends had bombed their first attempt, and while we were all enjoying a few beers, I had to good naturedly rib them about it. So after some back and forth, ultimately they bet me I couldn’t do any better than they had.
Now, at that point in time, I had never even thought of going to law school. I, I wasn’t actively considering law school. Even when they made the bet. I simply wanted to participate in the bet. So I took the LSAT and I did well enough to get a scholarship offer. But even with that scholarship offer, I wasn’t, I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do because I’d never thought of a career in law. And no disrespect to my peers, but I had always thought of lawyers as being pretty boring and stuffy, and it did not seem like it was going to be an exciting career choice.
I thought that history was that, was the path that I was on. And then I met an attorney who was helping an uncle with some legal problems, and he impressed me so much that I felt that maybe, maybe I wasn’t giving law much of a chance and I didn’t know it at the time, but that lawyer would later become my mentor and law partner for many years. After that, history was history and I decided to go ahead and give law a chance.
Now, when I got to law school, I was in for a rude awakening because I found out very quickly I wasn’t going to be able to skate through law school like I had through college. I really had to apply myself, but eventually I found my footing, even though I was still really unclear as to what type of law I wanted to practice.
And then another crazy random thing occurred that changed the trajectory of my life. At the end of my first year of law school, I attended a school sponsored party that’s known as the Barrister’s Bash, which is just a way for law students to celebrate the end of the year, have a few too many drinks and act like idiots. And true to form, I ended up acting like an idiot. And while defending the honor of my date for the evening, I got involved in a fight.
During the fight, I ended up breaking the nose of the bouncer who had accosted the honor of my date. It turned out, unbeknownst to me or anybody else, that that bouncer and the other bouncers there that evening all happened to be off duty police officers, and I was arrested. Now, I was charged with a simple battery, which is a misdemeanor, which normally would be no big deal. But it happened at a law school function. And I thought, understandably, that my legal career was likely over before it began.
And sure enough, the following Monday, I was called into the dean’s office and I fully expected I was going to be suspended or expelled. But surprisingly, the dean told me that he and numerous other teachers had seen the whole confrontation and they concluded I was blameless. And therefore, he had referred me to an alum of the law school who was a preeminent defense lawyer in Chicago who had agreed to defend me for free.
After that, not only was I fully exonerated, but that experience led to me being the first in the class to land a law-related job, initially clerking for that firm and then working as an attorney for that same firm after graduation and passing the bar.
That experience was wonderful. I was thrust into the courtroom right away, even as a law student and soon after the passing bar, passing the bar, I was getting extremely valuable trial experience. I loved that exposure. I loved the type of work we were doing. But the practice was primarily devoted to criminal defense. And I didn’t really have a passion for that practice, at least not one that would make me want to make it my career focus.
So I took a job with an insurance defense firm. The money was the reason, honestly, the money was really good, as well as exposure to the other side of the table.
But like I said, I learned early on to value people over wealth, and eventually I got to the point where I felt like I was always representing the villain. Not that I was, mind you, but I always felt sorrier for my opponent than for my client. And that’s when fate intervened, once again.
I was visiting my parents in the Quad Cities and had lunch with a guy who was the boss of my two brothers in a restaurant they worked for, which ironically they now own.
Anyway, he had asked me if I’d ever consider moving back to the Quad Cities. Of course, I had always thought that they’d be nice, but I didn’t think there’d be many chances, many opportunities in a market that small.
But before that conversation was over, he’d lined up three interviews for me. I went to the interviews. They all offered me a job and one of them really struck a chord. It was a firm where I would be helping people, not insurance companies, and primarily people who had been injured. The type of work that we would be doing in that firm would help get harmful products off the market and keep kids safe in their classrooms. And frankly, it was all about looking out for the little, the little guy.
And that was my path, and it’s the one I’ve been on ever since. That’s also been the basis of the mission statement for my firm, VanDerGinst Law. We help people in and out of the courtroom. We help people. But in the courtroom, our focus is on helping those who’ve been injured on the job or due to negligence. Outside the courtroom, we help those types, or those people who are least likely to help themselves. And that would include children, the elderly, obviously the injured and infirm.
We also focus our attention on the people to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude, which would include first responders, nowadays, of course, front line health care workers, active military and veterans, and of course, teachers.
So anyway, like I said at the onset, it’s going to be our hope to bring in some great guests who can inform and entertain. Some of them will be national celebrities, and some of them are probably people you’ve never heard of before. The topics will span the sublime to the ridiculous. But we want to hear from you all as well.
So if there are topics that you’d like us to explore and speakers you’d like us to invite, please reach out. Let us know. I want to thank you for listening to our first episode of Uncommon Convos. I promise future episodes will be nothing about me and it’s going to be all about information and people that may entertain and inform you. We just thought it’d be good for people to know where I come from and the perspective I bring to the topics that we’ll be discussing.
So please like and subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss out on future episodes and tell your friends to join as well.
At the end of each episode, my signoff is likely going to seem kind of strange. It’s something I say every time I sign off with staff at our daily Zoom meetings. I say it to my friends and family when I’m leaving them or hanging up the phone. And it comes from a very genuine and sincere place.
As I think I’ve made clear, my parents were my greatest role models and I loved them profoundly. My dad passed away many years ago. My mom unfortunately joined him just a few years ago. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer, which she had battled bravely, but eventually it proved to be too much for her. And when she was nearing the end, she insisted on being in her own home.
And again, one of those transcendent moments in life occurred because in one of those rare moments when my siblings and I were all able to be together, she allowed herself to gracefully pass with all of her closest loved ones there. We were all able to say our goodbyes. And when we had her very last words were, “I love you all”. And then she was gone.
After she died, we came across a sort of prayer book that she kept for many years. It was filled with the names of countless friends, people and aspirations that she’d always held dear, and she’d write, she wrote them all down so that she’d not forget any of them in her daily prayers.
I think everyone that knew her felt that she was one of the kindest and most thoughtful persons they’d ever come across.
So it’s in her memory, and in an effort to emulate her in some small way that my sign off at the end of every podcast is and will be, “I love you all”.
So thank you for tuning in.
Please join us again for all the future episodes. Stay safe. And I love you all.
More Episodes of Uncommon Convos
In this episode of Uncommon Convos Dennis talks with Executive Director, Joy McMeekan of Gilda’s Club Quad Cities. Joy left the corporate world after losing both her Husband and her mother to cancer. With this experience she was led to be a part of Gilda’s Club. Joy talks about the struggles she had with dealing with the loss of her husband and mother to cancer and what resources Gilda’s club offers to all those affected by cancer.
In this episode of Uncommon Convos, Dennis talks with one of the hardest working men in America, Chad Pregracke. Chad is founder of Living Lands and Waters. Dennis talks to Chad about how he started on this mission of cleaning the rivers and how things have changed over the years. They also talk about several other projects Chad has going on like, The Bison Bridge Project, Million Trees Project and Adopt A River Mile to name a few.