Hall of Fame inducts DobrichPublished 4:12pm Monday, April 29, 2013
EDWARDSBURG — Family Court Judge Susan L. Dobrich grew up in a bar before she joined the Bar.
“As my good friend, Ilene Sheffer, said, ‘You can take the girl out of the bowling alley, but you can’t take the bowling alley out of the girl,’ ” Dobrich said. “The bar and bowling alley were a big part of the community.”
Cass County’s first female prosecutor in 1983 and past president of the Michigan Probate Judges Association, who turns 60 this year, was named one of Michigan Lawyer Weekly’s 20 2012 Women in the Law for statewide leadership on behalf of protecting children in cases of child abuse and neglect.
On Saturday night, surrounded by folks who still know her as Susie, the probate judge who succeeded Herbert Phillipson Jr. in 1995, established CASA in 1997 and trains for the Michigan Judicial Institute and the Michigan Association of Drug Court Professionals constituted the 2013 class of the Edwardsburg Public Schools Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement at the sixth annual induction dinner at the Performing Arts Center.
Dobrich joked that although she married a Chieftain (Public Safety Director Tom Atkinson) and lives in Dowagiac, their two daughters, Julie Howard and Jamie Kastelic, were “raised properly” as Eddies.
Dobrich reminisced about growing up in Edwardsburg (salutatorian of the Class of 1972) and how it impacted her political activism and social conscience, even if her early battles picketed the Miss Edwardsburg beauty pageant and successfully petitioned the school board to amend the dress code so young women could wear slacks.
Title IX, landmark legislation banning sex discrimination in schools, had not yet opened the door to girls athletics, so Dobrich contented herself with being a cheerleader four years, managing the track team and keeping baseball statistics — the only outlets for interests in sports and politics and the sociability she cultivated frequenting her parents’ bar, Spanish Terrace, on Christiana Lake.
Her father, George Dobrich, longtime chairman of the Cass County Planning Commission, convinced her women could accomplish anything men could.
He sparred with Dr. Fred L. Mathews over whether to locate Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac or Edwardsburg.
Barbara Dempsey recalled Leo Hoffman, the gridiron’s namesake who coached football and was athletic director, teaching her history.
“She talked him into allowing her to do a ‘senior study’ and receiving credit for writing a report” — on communal living.
“I still love history,” she said, “even though Mr. Hoffman skipped the entire women’s suffrage movement.”
“Sue has built her knowledge to where she’s a force in Lansing,” Dempsey said. “Her service on the executive committee of the Governor’s Task Force on Child Neglect and Abuse allows her a platform from which she can impact legislation protecting children and the court system in general. She believes everyone should be provided the chance to become a productive citizen, and that the single biggest problem in this country is drug and alcohol abuse.”
The success of her Cass County Family Treatment Court has been replicated in at least seven Michigan counties.
“I had a very unusual childhood,” Dobrich said. “My parents, Pat and George, moved to Edwardsburg in June 1945.”
She was the third child, with an older sister and brother, arriving on Thanksgiving 1953.
“I remember falling asleep summer nights before we could afford air conditioning listening to music coming from the dance hall,” she said. “Even though my parents owned a bar, growing up in Edwardsburg was like ‘Ozzie and Harriet.’ I attended Eagle Lake Elementary from kindergarten to fifth grade.
In fifth grade, during a class trip to see the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, she chased down Rocky Colavito for an autograph.
“I attended Edwardsburg High School in tough economic times,” Dobrich said. “I was involved in split sessions. The 1960s and 1970s were times of great change, even in Edwardsburg. Kids still carried hunting guns in their cars. I can still remember kids driving tractors to school. Junior year, I was an activist, intent that the most important issue in all of America was getting rid of the dress code. Girls wore short skirts, but my father wouldn’t let me. As soon as I was out of his eyesight, the skirt got rolled short. We were successful in obtaining a new dress code from the school board and considered that our first political victory.”
After Kalamazoo College and Cooley Law School and a stint with Attorney General Frank Kelley, she clerked for Kalamazoo Circuit Court, then joined Prosecutor Bill Grimmer’s staff.
“I never thought of coming back to Cass County as a career choice,” Dobrich said. “I was more interested in defense until I realized there was a whole host of victims out there who had no one to represent them. It was the prosecutor’s office where I found my passion for working with children and my love for family law.”
The saloon keeper’s daughter came “full circle” and “found my passion for drug courts, working with families with substance abuse problems. I’m very proud of the drug court movement occurring in Cass County” since 2002.