Mercedes Karpinski Spotts
Tending to the business
of the courts, community and her family
Mercedes is the second child of John and Helen Karpinski.
It was in Grade School, while attending St. Thomas Aquinas, that Mercedes met six women who formed a bond unique in it's intensity and longevity - she still holds these women as her dear and trusted friends to this day. (Unfortunately two have passed away, but Mercedes none-the-less holds their memory dear to her.)
They do not stand on ceremony, they are as close as family. For example, they come to her house during the Christmas season and invariably wind up in the Christmas wrapping assembly line.
A graduate of Notre Dame Academy at Ansel Road and Superior, she went on to Notre Dame College. Before she finished she took some time off to marry and have two sons. Her oldest son, David, is a maritime attorney in Ashtabula, himself a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York.
Her younger son, John, is a Cleveland State graduate currently employed as a Housing Specialist in the Development Department of Cuyahoga County. John has one son, David, Mercedes' only grandchild. He is, as she describes him "absolutely perfect" at twelve years old and a seventh grader at University School.
A remarkable woman, she went back to Notre Dame College where she received an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice, followed just a year later with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology.
Still not done with her education she went on to Cleveland State University where she earned a Masters Degree in Public Administration and a law degree from Cleveland Marshall College of Law. At the same time, she was working full time and raising two sons.
While working at the Union Commerce Bank as a teller Mercedes took a Civil Service Exam, which resulted in her becoming the Deputy Bailiff for the Cleveland Municipal Court. As a matter of fact, she was the very first woman Deputy Bailiff in the Cleveland Municipal Court System. She started the Central Scheduling Department where she was Director, nearly twenty-five years ago.
She attended summer classes in Colorado and received a Fellowship from the Institute of Court Management. She applied for the job as Court Administrator for the Court of Appeals. Proudly, she still holds that position now, ten years later.
The Court of Appeals in Cuyahoga County is the largest appellate court in the State of Ohio with twelve judges and four panels. The smooth operation of this court is in the very capable hands of Mercedes Spotts. Mercedes attributes much of this success to her excellent staff who are loyal and dedicated public servants.
Mercedes lives with and is primary caregiver for her mother Helen Karpinski. It is a tiring task, but one Mercedes takes on without complaint. "She is my mother. She is such a wonderful person, just so good to everybody. She deserves the very best of everything!"
Mercedes applies the teachings of her mother from when she was growing up to her every day life. Her mother always taught her to set the example for other people and always be sure to look for the good in everyone.
It was also her mother's influence that directed Mercedes into community service. She was one of the founders of the East Side Catholic Shelter for battered and homeless women. When the Sisters of St. Joseph (who taught at St. Thomas Aquinas) called on her, she worked with them in opening the Shelter. Later they opened another shelter for expectant mothers with drug addictions. The first baby born in that facility was named Mercedes.
With the help of a friend she was able to secure a grant to open a Mental Health Services, a case management agency for the homeless with severe mental problems. Mercedes was the founding president. It is now a vital agency, headquartered where St. Peter's High School was previously housed in downtown Cleveland.
Mercedes has served many years as a Trustee on the Cuyahoga County Bar Association Board of Trustees. She was elected president of the bar; only the second woman elected in 80 years. During her term she started the Custody Mediation Program in Juvenile Court. She secured start-up funding from both the Cleveland Foundation and The Gund Foundation. This is now a highly regarded, very successful mediation program.
To facilitate the start of the program, she took Mediation training courses at Harvard Law School. The program has been recognized by the American Bar Association and Mercedes has received a public service award from the ABA.
Mercedes Karpinski Spotts and sister Diane Karpinski
Mercedes was also responsible for starting a legal newspaper for children, which was delivered to all seventh and eighth graders in Greater Cleveland. It described the law and its effect on people - young and old alike. This project has also received recognition and awards.
On February 8, 2002, Mercedes received a much-deserved Public Service Award for the Bar Association Award.
Very proud of her Polish ancestry, Mercedes was the State President of the Polish Women's Alliance. She represented the State of Ohio and West Virginia for four years!
In 1997 she was honored to give the commencement address and receive and honorary Doctorate Degree from Notre Dame College. Her speech focused on the history of Notre Dame and how hard it was for the sisters to combat chauvinism, prejudice and politics to get the school built.
The young graduates were amazed - and inspired - to hear the story. Once again Mercedes was able to use her talents to motivate young people.
Mercedes Spotts with sons David and John as Mercedes was honored at the 42nd Pulaski Scholarship and Recognition Awards Banquet
She considers herself to have been blessed with strong women as role models in her life. Her own mother, the St. Joseph sisters and the Notre Dame nuns all showed her what women can do when they try.
Her awards tell part of her story. They include the coveted President's Award from the Cuyahoga Bar Association which she received twice; The "Day Weiner" award for outstanding public service (she was the very first recipient); The designation of "Grand Lady of Pulaski" by the Polonia Foundation for personal and civic accomplishments and; numerous commendations, certificates of appreciation and honors from many different associations.
Her list of Community service projects tells part of her story. She was President of the International Services Center of Greater Cleveland; Member of the Board of Trustees of WomenSpace; Member of the Board of Trustees of the Cuyahoga County Women's Political Caucus; and among so many other things she was a member of the Friends of Catholic Social Services of Cuyahoga County.
Her professional accomplishments tell part of her story. She has been a practicing attorney, a court administrator, a lecturer, a mediator and an editor. She has excelled in each of these endeavors and is not through yet.
But all of the things only tell a part of her story. To know the whole story you must actually meet the woman. You must be able to see her smile to know how genuine it is. You must be able to look into her eyes to see how deep her soul runs. She is committed to family, to friends, to her faith.
Mercedes Spotts and grandson David
She has chosen to use her many skills to do good and to help people. She truly believes it will never hurt you to go out of your way to help someone or just to be kind to them. "People need to be better to one another," she says and you must hear her say it to know how intensely she means it.
You must hear her talk about her friends from her youth, still her trusted confidants of today, to really know how much she respects and loves them.
The story of Mercedes Spotts is one of accomplishment and achievement. But it is also one of compassion, kindness and good will.
UPDATE: In June 2005, Mercedes Spotts was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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