Cancer takes community leader |

Cancer takes community leader

Jeff Munson and Nancy Hayden, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Longtime South Lake Tahoe resident and former U.S. Magistrate Judge Monte Meredith Reece has lost his long battle with cancer. Mr. Reece died Wednesday at Barton Memorial Hospital. He was 57.

Memorial services will begin at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at St. Theresa Catholic Church for the active community leader. Private family inurnment will follow.

Word of Reece’s death saddened colleagues and friends, who remembered him as a kind man who dedicated his personal and professional life to helping people, especially children, in need.

“We lost a very good man. A very good father. A very good member of our community,” El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerald Lasarow said Thursday.

Reece was respected and admired among colleagues because he was respectful to others, Lasarow said.

“He was always kind, understanding and compassionate. An overall wonderful person who will be missed greatly,” he said.

As an attorney and judge, Reece worked passionately in the defense of children, colleagues recall. Much of his work, especially with local adoption cases, was done for free, as were cases that involved indigent families.

As his legal secretary for 14 years, Mary Sellers recalls dozens of times where Reece would take on cases in which families could not afford to pay an him the full amount he would normally charge for legal services.

“He would often take $20 and handle the case for them,” Sellers said. “Every time he would do it, he’d come into my office and say, ‘don’t get mad at me, they really needed the help.’ That’s the kind of person Monte was.”

Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury called Reece a “consummate professional and gentleman” whose greatest gift was when he handled cases where children were the victims of abuse and neglect.

“Monte and his wife Melanie care deeply about children and it was one of his missions as a lawyer to do what he could to help make life a better place for children,” Kingsbury said.

Reece was involved in many community functions, including helping a then fledging and now very popular South Tahoe Swim Club.

Swim coach Jerry Erickson said in the 1980s and 1990s Reece contributed his time and talents and organization skills to make the program what it is today.

“He was always right there, helping out. He was very upbeat and knew how to handle people,” Erickson said. “The one thing I will always remember about Monte is that he had a great attitude on life. He was always upbeat.”

Mr. Reece was born May 29, 1945, at Jackson, Tenn., to Jerrel and Marjorie Ricks Reece and was raised in Baton Rouge, La. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1974 and was a veteran of the Vietnam War.

He received his undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge and attended law school at Western State University, College of Law of Orange County, Anaheim, Calif. He passed the bar exam on his first attempt. He married Melanie Wohlers Sept. 24, 1985, at Carson City, Nev.

Mr. Reece and his wife moved to South Lake in 1982, where he started his own law practice, Law Offices of Monte M. Reece. He was appointed U.S. Magistrate Judge to the United States District Court Eastern District of California in July 1983, and served in that capacity until the day of his death.

He was involved in numerous organizations through the years and was a legal advisor for many of them. He was asked to serve on many boards and could never say no. He was a past president of the Lions Club of South Lake Tahoe and named Lion of the Year, served on the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center board of directors and was an advocate for battered women, sponsored several youth sports, was active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Ducks Unlimited and the NRA. He was a Children’s Advocate for the Court, a swim team and AYSO volunteer, referee and commissioner and a member of El Dorado County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue. He was an active golfer, bowler, antique restorer, gun collector and photographer — and he was a CNN junky.

He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Melanie Reece of South Lake Tahoe; sons, Hugh P. Wohlers of Arizona and Andrew Wohlers and Jerrel Thomas “J.T.” Reece, both of South Lake Tahoe; son, Bryan Wohlers and his fiancZe, Lisa Goss of Sacramento, Calif.; daughter, Rebecca Reece of South Lake Tahoe; father and stepmother, Jerrel and Alice Reece of Baton Rouge; brothers, Rex and Bill; and sister, Ellen.

He also is survived by his surrogate family. Friend and longtime secretary, Mary Sellers of Monterey, Calif.; son, Shawn Sellers and his fiancZe Stephania Poncia of Napa, Calif.; and daughter, Audra Sellers of Maui, Hawaii.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Reece Children’s College Fund that has been established at Bank of America, South Lake Tahoe branch.

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