About Judge Polly Shelton
Polly Shelton was born on a farm located between Grandview and Belton, Missouri. Later that farm became part of Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base. She attended Grandview, Hickman Mills and Martin City elementary schools. Her last school consisted of two rooms. The 5th to 8th grades were in the same room. Polly was always bright. While in the 5th and 6th grades, she listened to the 7th and 8th grade classes at the same time so that she could help her older brother, in the same room with her, with his homework. There was no high school in Martin City, so she attended Southwest High School in Kansas City and later Ruhl-Hartman High School.
Although she was the valedictorian of her class, Polly insists that was not a "great feat" because there were only 28 graduates. Later, she moved west to California and attended Long Beach Community College, where she completed a two-year course in business administration. She worked in Los Angeles for a Ford dealer and later for a leasing company in Hollywood, where she got to meet Doris Day, Liberace, and others. But the fast life of California disenchanted her and she moved back to Missouri.
Back home, she worked for a children's wear manufacturer, and later became the first female leasing agent for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
Polly later worked for the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine. This was a good job, she says, but because she was on call all of the time it was difficult to manage with a family life. She happened to be having lunch with a friend who was a secretary for the Kansas City Bar Association who told her about an opening in a law office. She worked at the office for four years and discovered she really enjoyed learning about law.
Polly's husband Lou worked at TWA, whose owner Carl Icahn had a reputation of being cut-throat. Lou and Polly decided that Lou would take early retirement and the family move to the Ozarks. Polly continued to work part-time at the law office but wanted something to do to keep her mind active. In December of 1985, she saw an ad in the local paper for a part-time municipal judge for the City of Stover. Lou told her that she would never get the job because she was a woman and a non-attorney. Polly decided that she was as qualified as anyone, because, in her words, she had had the "experience of being a judge, jury and executioner all of my life."
Polly won out the position over 15 other applicants, including lawyers, and found out early that her predecessor judge had allowed the prosecutor run the court. She did not think that was right, and started learning the Missouri Supreme Court Rules for Municipal Courts.
Soon after she became judge, she started reading the local paper so that she could find out what was going on in her new community. On the week following her first court, she opened that paper and saw big headlines "COUNCIL GRANTS CHANGE OF VENUE." She immediately called the city/court clerk and told her to have the Mayor and the Council at City Hall that very afternoon. She told them that she was the judge for the next two years and they had no business being involved in the court. The Council and the mayor apologized. Polly never had a problem with them or any future mayor or council.
About six months after her appointment, Polly received a notice about the MMACJA Conference in Columbia, with a copy of a letter from the Chief Justice stating that municipal judges should attend. Polly went to her first conference when there was about 75 judges present. She could not believe that, even though the Chief Justice had said all judges should be there, only 75 attended. One of the first lesssons that she learned at that first conference was that she could contact her presiding judge if she had a problem.
Soon thereafter, a defense lawyer made a motion for a jury trial in Stover out of time. Polly called the presiding judge to ask his advice and he backed her up. When she denied the motion, the defense attorney was shocked, and complained, but Polly stood her ground.
In the 1987 Conference, her second, she met Mike Svetlic, who asked her if she would consider being the District Eight director. She received it by default, as another judge was to be named, but was not around when it was time to make the selection.
Polly's first years on the Board were overwhelming - she was the only woman in a room full of men. Yet she was asked in 1991 whether she wanted to be an officer, because, as the Association president at that time said, "It's about time the Association had a woman officer." Polly told him, "If you want me as an officer because I am a woman, no, if you want me as an officer because I would do a good job, then I will consider it." That is how she became an officer. The Association has been the great beneficiary of Polly's decision.
When Polly rose to vice-president and Conference chair, she told the other Board members that she was going to invite Missouri Supreme Court Justices to speak at the Conference. She was told "good luck," in doubting voices. Amazingly, five of the seven judges showed up at that year's Conference. Since that time, for 15 straight years, several Supreme Court justices have attended each Conference.
Later, Polly became the judge in Versailles. About the same time, she began helping Bob Guthland with his work because of his health problems. She also helped out the presiding judge in a circuit in Southeast Missouri to educate the municipal judges there who had historically not been involved with the Association.
Polly has done many favors for the Association. She once talked a robe company in Kansas City into donating 300 judicial robes to the Association. She rented a trailer and brought them to the Lake from the warehouse.
Polly was her parent's only daughter, with four brothers. She grew up wanting to prove that she could work in what was a man's world. Polly spent time time with her five daughters, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
Polly has never told anyone fully all of the often tedious work that she has faithfully undertaken for the Association. All volunteer organizations must have someone who knows and labors on the devilish details. Those include such mundane tasks as ordering plaques for retiring President, writing thank-you notes to presenters, arranging for lodging for speakers, preparing the Conference binder (a job that Polly has performed for many years, which is incredibly time-consuming) dealing with registration, room issues, etc. Polly has always loyally and quietly worked for the Association. Polly has enjoyed the long hours. She told me several times "I love the Association" and is proud of its accomplishments.
One quality Polly has mastered is handling those few municipal judges who believe that their judicial position makes them equivalent to a monarch, and, as a result, demand special attention, including the best accommodations. Polly, patiently, has been able to "educate" these judges about their proper role in our judicial system.
In 2005, Polly received the highest honor the Association awards, the George Pitman Award, for her long-time meritorious service. If there were a higher honor that the Association could award, it would have to be named the Polly Shelton Award. For there has been no one else who has worked harder, and been prouder of the Association, then Polly Shelton, our friend. She will be missed.