Long-time Member of ALTA, WLTA Passes Away

March 4, 2014

At ALTA Conventions, Tom Rostad enjoyed working his way onto the stage to sing one of his favorites. It was usually “New York, New York” or “Mack the Knife.”

“It wasn't unusual for the Wisconsin contingency attending ALTA conventions to notice that Tom would quietly ‘disappear’ from the group,” said Karen Gilster, executive director of the Wisconsin Land Title Association (WLTA). “The next thing we knew, there he was on stage trying to talk the band into letting him sing.”

Rostad, who was president and co-owner of Dane County Title Co., passed away on Feb. 8 after an 11-year battle with prostate cancer. A long-time member of the WLTA, Rostad, was a member of ALTA for 20 years and a strong supporter of ALTA’s Title Industry Political Action Committee. He attended many ALTA conventions and meetings, including nearly every Annual Convention from 2000 to 2011.

After earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, Rostad earned his law degree in 1974 from UW-Madison. He then launched his own firm—Smoler, Albert and Rostad—with two other attorneys. Known for his expertise in real-estate law, Rostad was recruited in 1986 to join Dane County Title.

“Tom had a deep love and concern for the title industry, Gilster said. “If there was a looming Wisconsin title issue, he regularly called the association office with suggestions or offers to assist in any way they could.”

In 2008, Rostad volunteered to be a part of Wisconsin’s newly formed Title Advisory Council in 2008. Sean Dilweg, former Wisconsin insurance commissioner, appointed Rostad to chair the Advisory Council. One of his first acts on the job was to invite the council and commissioner to tour his company’s title plant.

“He wanted everyone to be able to grasp the importance of the role the industry played in the real estate transaction,” Gilster said. “He sincerely respected the integrity of a good title product from search to closing and defended the practice of doing things right in many of the conversations we had over the years.”

Indicative of Rostad’s humor, he filed a lawsuit in 1982 against “Jimmy the Groundhog” due to severe weather one winter. He was quoted to have said the groundhog had to "comply with his promises and immediately terminate winter. Someone has to pay for this winter that won't end.” Being an avid golfer, Rostad’s lawsuit was seeking two round-trip tickets to Florida and punitive damages amounting to a round of golf at the course of his choice. The lawsuit sparked a headline in The New York Times titled “Groundhog Sued.” Rostad eventually dropped the suit against “Jimmy” because the groundhog “stalled for warm weather, knowing I could not get a sympathetic jury. And it worked," he said at the time.

Rostad was devoted to his family. He met his wife, Genie, in 1980 while cross-country skiing. They married six months later. Despite battling cancer, Tom and Genie traveled to Norway and New Zealand with their two daughters in recent years.

The Rostads were close friends with Mike and Marilyn Wille. Mike tragically passed away in September 2006 when his twin-engine aircraft crashed in North Sioux City, S.D. after he left the Nebraska Land Title Association’s annual convention. He was to be installed as ALTA president during the 2006 Annual Convention.

The two couples first met in 1988 during a trip to Australia for Chicago Title agents. With time before their flight, they took a quick tour of San Francisco. The friendship blossomed from their and the couples spent more time together at conventions and vacations.

“We would often pick them up with our plane in Madison and we would fly to the conventions stopping where we wanted on the way,” Marilyn Wille said. “Tom soon became a great co-pilot.”

Marilyn turned to Tom for business advice following Mike Wille’s plane accident.

“When Mike suddenly passed away, Tom was the second person I called,” she said. “I had been with the company since 1971, but never in the role of owner. I relied on Tom for advice in those early days after Mike passed. Sometimes when a spouse passes away, your friends soon disappear. Tom and Genie have been in constant touch with me since Mike’s accident. Tom cared very much about the industry and his employees.”

An avid sportsman and outdoorsman, Rostad annually joined a group of friends at the same lodge in Alaska to fly fish for silver salmon. He also was content fishing for trout in Wisconsin streams. Two weeks before entering Hospice care, Rostad played 18 holes of golf two weeks before entering Hospice Care. He shot a 92.

Bush Nielsen, an industry veteran and attorney at the Wisconsin-based law firm Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, was a long-time friend and provided the eulogy at Rostad’s funeral.

“Tom was also a wonderful embodiment of the finer aspects of this business that we love,” Nielson said. “He was an excellent and detail-conscious lawyer and a very savvy businessman. He was also a thoroughly decent man, humble in the extreme, a gentleman, and loyal to his many friends and customers. He believed that good business depended on high ethics. He trusted the people he worked with and encouraged them to push themselves to be more.”

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.