When Charles Kampinski was 17 years old, he dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Navy. While in the service, he completed his GED classes. After leaving the service and with $15, he began attending The Ohio State University in Columbus.
“I got a history degree, but if you’re not going to teach, you can’t do anything with it,” he said. “I heard my friend was going to take the LSAT and I decided to do it too. I did well and was accepted into a law program. After I graduated, I joined a trial firm. When I walked into the courtroom for the first time, it hit me. I realized I found my home and that was where I was supposed to be.”
The reason he wanted to become a trial lawyer was a simple one.
“(The firm I joined) was a small firm of about seven or eight partners that were trial attorneys,” Kampinski said. “I saw that it suited my combative nature.”
As for the reason he joined the Navy, he said it was because he didn’t know his place in the world or what he wanted to do.
“School wasn’t right for me at the time,” he said. “I didn’t know any of my background besides the fact my parents were Holocaust survivors. I grew up in Rochester and then my mom remarried, so that’s how I ended up in Cleveland. I have other siblings who now live in Israel, so I was left to my own devices. I needed to find something else to spend my time on.
“I joined the Navy and was there for almost four years – from 1964 to 1968. I got my GED when I first went in and then got into OSU. Though it was a different path, I still wound up where my friends from high school were. I got lucky.”
Learning about his mother’s, aunt’s and grandmother’s experiences in the Holocaust, Kampinski said their stories motivated him to pursue something greater in life.
“My grandmother survived with two teenage girls, my mom and my aunt,” he said. “She wouldn’t let them die. She, my mother and myself came to the U.S. when I was 2. I was born in Neustadt Holstein, Germany, at a tuberculosis camp. They were at Auschwitz and survived until they were liberated. My grandmother raised me because my mother worked so much, she was a great and tough lady.
“They went through a lot, their life of survival was like an inspiration to me. We grew up very poor, so I always favored helping the underdog so everything fit.”
With all his combined experiences and his connection to his Jewish heritage, Kampinski said he doesn’t regret any part of his journey.
“It’s hard to stereotype an entire religion and people, but saying that, I think all Jews are empathetic and caring,” he said. “I help people that are terribly hurt, that’s what I do. I think that is consistent with the Jewish religion. I love what I do. I’m not likely to retire anytime soon because I love it. As long as that continues, I’ll keep helping people.”