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Clark County

December 8, 2013

Nothing ‘Tiny’ about Barthold’s accomplishments

Retired judge receives IUS Chancellor’s Medallion

JEFFERSONVILLE — Staring out the screen door of her small three room house, young Clementine Schwan had grown anxious. Joseph Anton Schwan, her father, would be coming home from work soon, and she could barely wait to tell him her news.

For eight years, learning had come before everything else to the girl nicknamed Tiny. But, on this day, all those extra hours had paid off. Her school had presented her a gold medal, an award that was given to the top student in all of eighth grade.

As soon as her father came through the door, Tiny rushed to greet him. “Papa! Papa!” she said. “I got the gold medal. I got the gold medal.”

Her father stopped and looked.

“I expected nothing less of you, Tiny,” he said with a stare, “nothing less.”

Eighty years later, Judge Clementine “Tiny” Barthold still chokes up over the memory of her as a child looking for a parent’s pride and receiving something unexpected instead.

“That just broke my heart. I wanted to hear some words of praise,” she said. “But with what all our parents went through to get us here, I guess he had a right to say that.”

Earlier this fall, Barthold received another gold medal, this time from Indiana University Southeast. In front of an audience of 500, the college presented Barthold, alongside fellow honoree Col. Bill Ryall, with the IUS Chancellor’s Medallion. The award honored the Jeffersonville resident for helping to reshape the juvenile justice system in Southern Indiana and for cracking glass ceilings for other women in the community.

Some people might not know what to expect from a woman called Tiny. Ten minutes in the presence of the 4 foot, 11 inch retiree would soon set them straight. Feisty has been used to describe Barthold. Determined, compassionate and caring are commonly heard too. Circumstances may not have always been easy for the judge, but more often than not, she found a way to achieve her goals. Along the way, she helped thousands of youth in the process.

“She’s taken some of the factors in her life that might have been discouraging and difficult to deal with and turned them around and made them work for her,” said fellow Judge Cecile Blau on a video shown at the award’s dinner.

Tiny’s story is the story of America, the tale of an immigrant who came to this land with so very little and made a name for herself despite of it. She was born by the Black Sea in Odessa, Russia in 1921 shortly after the infamous revolution. Her father, a soldier in the czar’s army, was captured by the Bolsheviks and made to translate for their cause.

In 1925, the Schwans were able to escape the Soviets by obtaining Canadian visas. American visas were hard to come by during those years. Nonetheless, upon their arrival in Canada, Barthold and her family then journeyed to South Dakota where her father found employment in a wood working factory. She studied hard and made good grades, even picking up a job at a restaurant so she could pay for high school.

Although they were in the country illegally, it would take the government until the early 1940s to press the matter. After the deportation hearing, the overseeing judge, Van Buren Perry, intervened and requested a stay.

“Judge Perry said this is not America,” Barthold said. “This does not happen. America does not turn their back on good people.”

The judge worked out a way for the family to stay in the United States, and after a jaunt to Canada, all the Schwans returned with proper visas from the only country that had them available, Latvia. In 1944, Barthold obtained her American citizenship.

Shortly after the excursion to Canada, Barthold married Eddy Barthold. Her husband’s job with the Geological Society took them away from Aberdeen, S.D. Several additional moves and two children later, the couple settled in Jeffersonville in 1955.

Eddy, like many husbands of the day, was the traditional sort. When Barthold asked to take university courses, he questioned who would raise the children and cook the meals. One college graduate in the family was enough, she remembered him saying. For love, Barthold gave in.

“I was a very dutiful wife way back then,” she said. “I didn’t know any better.”

It was an opening in a Clark County probation government that would set her on a different path. Already involved in local civic organizations, Barthold heard about the job from a friend and convinced Eddy to allow her to apply. In 1961, she became a secretary in the county probation office.

Determined to advance, Barthold several years later secretly took the test to become certified as a probation officer as well. She aced the exam. Once the job of probation officer in her office became available, she told the judge of her credentials and said she was going to apply.

“I said, ‘Judge, I took the test. I’m eligible. I’d like to apply for the position of probation,’” Barthold said. “He said, ‘What? Tiny, you’re a woman. What would the taxpayers say?’”

Two weeks later, under the threat of her departure if she didn’t receive the job, the judge appointed Barthold as a probation officer, making her the first female to hold the position in Clark County. Strings came attached with the work though. Barthold would make less than the previous occupant. The judge also refused to hire a replacement secretary, forcing her to take on the extra workload herself.

Through time, Barthold would come to rework the way juveniles were handled in the justice system by finding alternatives to Boys’ and Girls’ school. Countless children were helped due to her intervention. Even today, her legacy lingers through the aptly named Clementine B. Barthold Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Jeffersonville. Before the facility, juveniles were housed in the same jails as adult offenders.

“It breaks your heart when you hear stories like that, and they used to just throw them in jail,” she said. “And I thought there has to be a better way to help these children.”

The year of 1972 was one that would test Barthold, and alter the course of her life. In September, her husband Eddy died unexpectedly in a boating accident. Two months later, the judge for whom she worked lost reelection, essentially putting her out of a job.

Like always, Barthold adapted. She enrolled in college courses, resolved to go after the degree she had always desired. While working as the first institutional parole officer at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, she decided to also obtain a law degree. Despite not yet having an undergraduate diploma, she applied to law school as a “special student.” 

Not everyone thought law school was the right thing for Barthold. A counselor at the school cautioned her to temper her expectations.

“He said, ‘Mrs. Barthold, you have as much chance of getting into law school as a camel going through a needle’s eye,’” she said. “I said, ‘But this is just a little camel.’”

Barthold got in. After completing her undergraduate degree in 1978, she graduated from Indiana University Law School in Indianapolis three years later at the age of 59.

Once she established a family law practice back in Southern Indiana, Barthold decided to challenge an incumbent judge for Clark Superior Court, purposefully choosing the office that exclusively handled all the juvenile case. Thanks to the help of the female voters, she won by a landslide, and in 1982 Barthold became the first female judge in Clark County history. After 12 years, she stepped down from the bench at the age of 73.

Awards and plaques now cram the walls of Barthold’s living room giving testament to all her honors and achievements. Yet, while remembering the gold medal of her youth, she feels her father would definitely have been impressed by the Chancellor’s Medallion that she so recently received.

“He would be proud of this. Papa, you would be proud,” Barthold said. “But he would say, ‘Well what else did you expect?’”

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