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Embracing Adversity

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“I WAS TAUGHT THAT WHEN YOU FACE ADVERSITY, IT’S EITHER GOING TO DESTROY YOU OR MAKE YOU BETTER. … YOU CLIMB OUT OF THE HOLE AND FIND OUT HOW TO BE BETTER, AND WHEN YOU FIND OUT WHAT’S BETTER, YOU KEEP GOING.” –LARRY WILDER

Southern Indiana Attorney Larry Wilder opens up about love and life-defining moments

BY RICK REDDING | PHOTO OF LARRY WILDER BY CHRISTIAN WATSON

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESS AND GENIE VOGELSANG OF BIRDSONG WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

When Larry Wilder and his now-wife Teresa were dating, she once shared an embarrassing personal story and then asked if he could remember an embarrassing moment in his own life. Larry thought he was being set up.

That’s because he has perhaps one of the “best” embarrassing stories – a tale that put him in the national headlines and still today, 10 years later, comes up first in Google searches for his name.

It wasn’t until that moment while swapping stories months into their relationship that Teresa realized the charming guy she was dating and falling in love with was the same person she’d seen images of passed out in a trash can in the news.

Today, Larry may be the best-known lawyer in Southern Indiana, especially since representing high-profile clients such as the infamous Katina Powell, who wrote the book that rocked the University of Louisville athletics department. But it was his defense of a murder suspect, he believes, that led to what he now calls the “trash can incident” and, more importantly, the ultimate test of character.

“I ended up out with a group of guys, one of whom unfortunately had lost his mother in a horrible crime, and I was representing the gentleman who had taken his mother’s life. We probably spent too much time in the same place out together,” Larry said. “He thought he was getting a great prank on me at the end of the night because I didn’t have any idea what was going on. He got a whole lot more bang for his buck because he didn’t realize the police officers who came to investigate this potential crime included a police officer that I had probably tormented more than I should have.”

Larry still doesn’t recall how he ended up in the trash can passed out in front of his house but was soon dealing with a “defining moment” in his life.

“So, the next thing you know, you guys in the media end up with the pictures. I was worldwide news and the most Googled name in Switzerland for a week,” he recalled.

Faced with a moment that could have destroyed his career – and more – Larry said he did the only thing he know to do: He put on his best suit and went to work.

“I was taught that when you face adversity, it’s either going to destroy you or make you better,” he said. “My family were eastern Kentucky coal miners and every day was adverse. Either you climbed back in the mines and figured out a way to stay out of them, or you went down in the mines and you died in them. My concept through life is you make it better. You climb out of the hole and find out how to be better, and when you find out what’s better, you keep going.

“I was raised that way and it was the right thing to do, rather than run and hide. In this day and age, you can’t hide from anything.”

Another part of moving on was his personal life. Larry, who has a son and two daughters from his first marriage, had been divorced for several years when he made a pitch on a dating web site to Teresa. She said that she had just ended an 8-year relationship on the heels of an 18-year marriage. She’d just signed up on the dating site and had dozens of men requesting dates.

“I looked at (Larry), and he wasn’t my type,” she said. “But I love words, and he’s a good writer. I liked what he said and ended up canceling a date (with someone else) to go out with him.”

That first date ended up being a three-hour dinner at Volare, one of her favorite spots, in which the conversation was so intense she didn’t get to finish her scallions. By the weekend, Larry had convinced her to let him go with her to the St. James Court Art Show (“He invited himself,” she clarified. “He’s quite the negotiator.”). The first date felt more like an interview, Teresa recalled, with “lots of questions.”

This was the fall of 2009, just months after Larry’s trash can incident. Teresa, who was working as a pediatric nurse at Home of the Innocents and had a home in Bullitt County, said she fell in love with the Indiana attorney on date No. 5.

She moved in with him in 2011 but didn’t sell her home until 2013. They didn’t get married until 2017.

“Early on, we had no interest in getting married,” she said.

Of course, that changed.

Larry helped Teresa get through some health issues, which led to her quitting her job. She became a grandmother, which led her to reevaluate the situation. And then Larry asked her to be his wife.

“After 8 years of being together and 6 years of living together, Teresa and I got married,” Larry said. “We flew to Sedona (Arizona), and only her daughter and husband and our granddaughter went with us. We got married in what I consider one of the most spiritual places in the United States. We had a great time and are looking forward to going back.”

After all those years, both said the time was right. Teresa wore cowboy boots under her dress, and the pair had to hike two miles to the wedding spot.

“As a lawyer, there’s a certain part of me that likes legal institutions. We both kind of agreed it was time to make that a legal institution and get married. It’s been great for both of us. It changes your perspective of things. Even though we shared the same house and have been together, it gives you some security and continuity,” he said.

And that’s how the marriage works.

They enjoy hiking together, even though Teresa had to talk him into the idea that it was fun. She plans trips and dinners out; he supplies the big personality. And Wilder, who once checked in at more than 300 pounds, lost a third of that and learned to live a healthier lifestyle with Teresa’s help.

On a recent trip to Boston for a business conference, she had lunch and dinner reservations set for the entire trip a week before they left.

“We’re weird in an alike way,” she explained. “When you find someone, you just settle down. I just truly think it was the right thing to do, and it’s profoundly different than the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, in a good way.”

Larry’s career as an attorney has blossomed since the trash can incident. In the immediate aftermath, he resigned as attorney for the Jeffersonville City Council and Clark County School Board. The council has since retained him, and Wilder has more than 300 active cases today.

A sole practitioner, Larry has an assistant, Elise Jackson, who has been with him for 20 years, and his daughter works for him as well.

It has helped that Larry seems to know everyone in town and has earned their respect through the years. And he’s known a lot of the people he deals with for decades, even back to childhood. He’s known John Schnatter as a competitor in athletics since they were 10 years old, and he went to college at Hanover with Vice President Mike Pence and actor Woody Harrelson. He has close ties to the University of Louisville, where he earned his law degree, and has represented UofL athletes when they’ve gotten in trouble.

“The people here in this community know you, and they know your family, and they know your work ethic, and they know your willingness to fight for what you believe in. And to fight for what you’ve been hired to fight for,” he said.

Brad Jacobs, a Clark County circuit court judge, said Wilder was “bigger than life” when he was growing up.

“He taught me how to manage cases more than just trying them,” Jacobs said. “He’s super honest; he’ll tell you the good and bad. And he can be aggressive when he has to be.”

Attorney Bart McMahon said Wilder went out of his way to welcome him when he first came to Indiana to practice 20 years ago. Through those two decades, Larry has become “a good personal friend” and teamed with him on the Katina Powell case.

“He knows people, and he can read people better than anyone I know,” McMahon said. “He has a load of personality and can connect well with anyone.”

Larry believes his success is attributable to simply working hard. And he recognizes that the trash can episode was, indeed, a defining moment.

“I’ve represented a lot of really good people and a lot of very interesting cases. It’s a tribute to the fact that people recognize that I work hard, and I don’t let adversity or let things change course for me or my clients. You just put your nose down and you go. I think that’s something that people admire and like about their lawyer,” he said. “I think it made me a better person, a better attorney and made me a hell of a lot more money.”

Time has its way of healing, and Wilder is quick to make jokes today about his most embarrassing moment, though it hasn’t always been easy.

“I think in life if you walk away from what has happened and then take what’s happened in your life and move forward using that as a tool to be better,” he said, “then it’s much better than trying to pretend like it didn’t happen and act like it’s gonna go away.”

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