Impact of Balancing Acts

Jillian Von Gunten posing with her Emerging Alumni award at Muskingum University.

Jillian Von Gunten ’09 was a 2023 honorable recipient of the Emerging Alumni Award from Muskingum University. This award is honored to individuals who have made significant contributions in their careers in the first 15 years and continue to positively impact the world.

Von Gunten is from Zanesville, Ohio. She said had hopes of leaving her hometown to experience life differently; however, it did not end up the way she had anticipated.

Jillian Von Gunten and her friends in the theatre department at Muskingum University.

“So, it’s kind of a funny story in that people had said, ‘Oh, you should go to Muskingum,’ and I was like, ‘No, I want to go somewhere else.’ I actually did a year at Denison and then ended up transferring because Denison was very expensive, even with my scholarship, but also, it didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” Jillian said. “So, I knew people that were students at Muskingum, and they said, ‘You know, you should really give it another look.’ It is one of those things where sometimes people know you better than you want to admit.”

Jillian transferred to Muskingum, where she majored in theatre and political science with minors in English and history. She was also involved in many organizations on campus.

“I was in a sorority [Alpha Sigma Alpha], and then I worked in the Political Science Department as a student aide or department assistant. And then I was also on the technical staff for the Theatre Department. So, I was like the student worker in charge of all their costumes,” she said.

Jillian graduated from Muskingum in 2009 with her Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude with majors in political science and theatre. After she graduated, she always knew she wanted to continue her education in law school.

“Law school was always on the table because in high school, we had a mock trial program, and I really, really loved it. So, it seemed like a natural combination of all the things I enjoyed doing.” 

Jillian Von Gunten when she graduated from Muskingum University in her cap and gown.

She attended Capital University Law School, where she eventually graduated with her J.D. degree. However, the opportunities she experienced in law school led her to where she is today.

“Before I graduated, I had a really great opportunity because I had done local theatre, and one of the moms of a kid there was an attorney. She was very kind and said to me, ‘Hey, if you want some job experience before you graduate or during law school, I would love to have an intern’,” said Jillian.

Her internship began with Allen & Baughman the summer before law school and continued every summer and winter break during school. Upon her graduation, Allen & Baughman approached her with an opportunity.

“They very graciously said to me at graduation, ‘We want you to come work here.’ It’s in my hometown, with people I know and appreciate, so I have been there since I graduated [graduate school],” said Jillian.

Allen & Baughman is a small, local law firm, so she does not specialize in a certain area. “I usually start between 8 and 8:30 a.m. in the morning, and it depends on what is going on in my day. It could be that I am in court. We practice real estate law, domestic relationships, a little bit, juvenile law, estate planning, probate work for when somebody passes away, and adoption stuff, so any of that may have me in court.”

Jillian’s law firm also serves as the village lawyer for multiple small villages in Perry County. In that sense, she serves as a prosecutor for something someone did inside the village.

Through her experience in court and throughout legal practices, she has experienced moments that make her proud.

Jillian Von Gunten's headshot.

“Oh, it is definitely helping people. Sometimes we lose, or sometimes I have to give them bad news, but the times when, especially in estate planning or adoption, where we get across the finish line, something like that is a great day. When I get to make people happy or relieved about something, that is a good day for me,” said Jillian.

Through her being a lawyer and helping people in her community, she found a way to volunteer her time to give back through Legal Aid clinics. “Getting a lawyer is expensive. One of the biggest problems the legal community sees is a lack of access to legal support due to financial burdens. This is an opportunity for folks that are at or below the poverty line to come and receive some sort of legal services for free.”

Jillian is also the President of the Zanesville Community Theatre Board of Directors and Treasurer of the Southeastern Ohio Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors.
Throughout her life, theatre has been exceptionally important to her, and she is proud that she is continuing to provide those same opportunities to kids in her community.

“Some of the things I am most proud of are the opportunities and connections with kids and creating safe places for them in theatre. Especially in the last few years, things have been really scary for kids who are different and really scary for people who are different or are not the majority, so we have a place where kids come and feel safe, people come and feel safe,” said Jillian.

She is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Zanesville Pride Group, which she helped establish three years ago and has continued to grow its presence in Southeastern Ohio.

“It is just wonderful for people to realize there is support in communities this size. So, I think that is how acceptance and confidence grow, is if you realize that you don’t necessarily have to be afraid,” Jillian said. “Standing in my community saying, ‘You have all known me my whole life, and you know I am a good person, and who I happen to be married to doesn’t change who I am as a person. So, if you know me and love me, you can know and love anyone. It’s OK’.”

She has experienced many opportunities throughout her life that have shaped her into the person, wife, friend, and colleague that she is today. Through this wisdom, she has advice for current and future students at Muskingum University.

“The biggest thing is, appreciate your time there so much because college, in particular, is this wonderful blend of you as an adult, you have some autonomy and freedom, but you don’t have all the adult responsibilities." 

Don’t stress about things to come because if you work hard, the universe will take care of you.
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