Visitors to the Durant city pool this summer might see a familiar face getting splashed in the kiddie pool or maybe yelled at from the diving board to watch another spectacular stunt.
While Sandy Stroud has a hard time envisioning her impending post-retirement life, she expects the warm months to be spent with her grandkids near some chlorinated water and the the local recreation spot affectionately called “the rocket park.”
Bryan County’s court clerk for almost 17 years can’t recall ever being off work all summer, or really much at all. She began working at the courthouse in August 1982 at age 23.
“The day I came here, they were arraigning a girl on murder charges. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! This is so exciting!’”
It must be a thrilling environment. Courtroom dramas, like “Matlock” and “Law & Order,” have entertained television viewers for years. That’s how it happens, right?
“They don’t do that,” Stroud said, specifically critical of the lawyers’ opening statements. “That’s not real life.
“People watch those shows, then get on jury trials and expect to see that kind of evidence. I think a lot of people are acquitted because of that expectation.
“We talk about cases sometimes, and somebody will say I should write a book.
“I was in the courtroom the day the guy slit his wrists and recently when one dropped his pants. It’s always exciting with the different cases.”
Stroud said getting to go into the courtroom is her favorite part of her job. She enjoys working with the juries and has gotten close with jurors when the trial goes long. Some still call, she said, such as those who also witnessed the man slicing his wrists.
“That was traumatic for them. When I first came here, everything shocked me. I was naive. Nothing shocks me anymore.”
Stroud was sworn in as court clerk in May 1997. Her predecessors — Louise Gentry (1971-86) and Beverly Serner (1986-97) — were there to see her take the oath for the first time.
“I felt honored,” Sandy said. “I never dreamed I would be court clerk. To some people, that might not sound like anything big, but it was to me. They wanted me to say something, but I was crying so hard I couldn’t talk.
“Louise and Beverly were mentors to me. Louise hired me and Beverly appointed me first deputy. They both had faith in me. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for them.”
And one of them had predicted just where Stroud would be.
“Louise said, ‘You’re gonna be court clerk someday.’ I thought, ‘No way. Me court clerk?’ But she was right.”
Serner said, “When Sandy started, she was so young. But she was willing to learn, and I could tell she had potential. She hadn’t been there very long when I had to be off a few weeks for surgery. So I took her in the courtroom with me and had her writing down what happened, keeping a record for the judges. I was really impressed. She would listen, then she would do it. She was smart.
“She was very dependable and friendly with the public. One of the things I really liked was that she didn’t make any difference in people. Poor or rich or whatever, she treated everyone the same.
“She seemed like one of mine. I felt like I raised her up.
“We teased her about always being bashful, that I think it was three days before she asked where the bathroom was,” Serner said with a laugh. “When she went in the courtroom, we heard all kinds of testimony. She would come out and say, ‘I can’t believe that!’
“We had a lot of good times. We worked hard, but we had fun with it.”
Stroud said one of the biggest transformations in trends during her tenure was a shift toward technology.
“Everything was handwritten in books when I started here.”
Some of those oversized chronicles are stuck in slots by the office door, the tattered red fibers of the spines showing their age. And those things would rival dumbbells in the efficacy of building biceps with repeated lifting.
In 1994, Bryan County actually was in a pilot program that made it one of the first the start using KellPro software for all that record keeping.
Unfortunately, according to Stroud, another notable change has been the cases filed.
“It’s unreal how many more criminal charges are filed now — probably 10 times the criminal cases.
“I remember the only charges being about marijuana,” she said, noting it was usually simply possession.
Now, methamphetamine is an epidemic.
“It seems there are more accusations of child sexual abuse and other terrible things, and I blame meth. If you really look at it, I think everything stems from it.”
A recent challenge to the court clerk’s office has been budget cuts from the state and county. Stroud said the workload surely hasn’t lessened, but the available funds and staff have. They do the best they can with what they can get.
“The girls I have are amazing,” Stroud said. “They are willing to work late or weekends. They work hard. They’re like family.”
She said people who might have broken the law also are friends.
“Some of them are almost like family too. I’ve worked with some since they were kids.”
Stroud said her justification for bidding farewell are three-fold. Her primary consideration is being able to spend time with her two grandchildren.
“They’re not ever going to be this age again,” Stroud said.
Hannah, 6, is involved in “cheernastics,” according to Stroud, and 1-year-old Hayes’ “thing” currently is throwing everything in the trash.
“We weren’t so busy when Hannah was little and she could come up here for a while. We’re too busy now, and Hayes couldn’t come and stay here.”
Suddenly, sitting in that office, the phones ringing and the dull roar of maybe a half-dozen conversations from the other side of the window and the desk-filled room, and the pecking of keyboards became more prominent than background noise. It seems something similar to the proverbial Grand Central Station.
“I will have some days free that I can come up here,” Stroud said. “I want to help keep them caught up because I know what it’s like. Plus, I want to come see them.”
“Once Hayes is in school, I want to work, not stay home. I might come back here part time.”
Stroud listed her second reason for retiring is allow another worthy person to ascend. She has recommended her first deputy, Donna Alexander, fulfill the remaining two years of her term.
“Donna has been here 28 years. She deserves to be court clerk.”
Alexander had nothing but praise for her departing superior.
“I consider Sandy to be a good friend as well as the best ‘boss’ I’ve ever had. She works as hard or harder than anyone in the office and will be missed by everyone. She enjoys interacting with the public. She is encouraging to people she meets at the front counter and is very good at defusing difficult situations that sometimes occur in the course of our business. She has witnessed bloodshed in the courtroom, listened to unspeakable testimony in jury trials and celebrated with successful drug court participants. Through everything, she has remained a positive influence on her office and the public she serves.”
Stroud also has held state offices, performing duties as Oklahoma Court Clerks Association vice president the past two years. Her first position with the OCCA was southeast district representative, then treasurer.
Stroud’s third and final retirement reason? She’s been in the court clerk’s office 32 years. Stroud said she believed there are only a few others currently at the courthouse who have been there longer, including Tax Assessor Glendel Rushing and Judge Rocky Powers.
Powers, who’s put in 37 years and wore his robe alongside Judge Farrell Hatch at Stroud’s 1997 swearing in, said, “It seems like I’ve watched her grow up here. Like everybody else, I’m going to miss her.”
Stroud said, “I’m lucky to have worked with many different judges who also became like family. I hear other court clerks say they don’t get along with the judges. Judge (Joe) Taylor was here when I first came, and he’s been like a father figure to me. I’ve seen a lot of attorneys come and go, some still practicing here. You spend a lot of time with them and some become lifelong friends.
“I can’t imagine not doing this. Of course I won’t know what it’s like until I’m not doing it. And I’m not just saying this, but I love this courthouse. I grew up in this courthouse. When I drive by, I have to look at it.”
That’s not likely to change anytime soon, although Stroud’s sendoff is slated for 2-4 p.m. Friday in the third-floor courtroom. All friends and family are “summoned” to appear.
Stroud has devoted more than three decades to accumulating moments and investing in people she won’t forget as a courthouse employee and elected official. Seems it will please the court that she step down and onward to many memorable moments as “MiMi.”
Contact Regina Phillips at (580) 924-4388, ext. 120.