Judge Smolenski wowed audiences at lakeshore awards program

by Cynthia Price

Legal News

"In the court I'm very serious," said Sara Smolenski, Judge for the 2nd Division of the 63rd District Court, to the crowd gathered in Grand Haven on Oct. 6 for the Lakeshore Athena® Award.

The audience needed this reminder because Smolenski's keynote speech generated so much laughter that she might have been a stand-up comic.

Behind all the hilarity, Smolenski had an important


Herself a recipient of the Grand Rapids Athena® Award in 2006, Judge Smolenski serves the community in many capacities other than judicial. She regards this as a measure of her success, and she treated audience members to what she feels contributes to that success.

"I call it my 3D approach to life," Smolenski said. The three Ds are Desire - "you need to want it;" Determination, or commitment; and Drive, the energy that takes you through to the finish, even when you feel you can't make it.

Smolenski started out her brief speech by congratulating all of the 24 nominees, saying that, like previous speakers, she regarded them all as winners. She then moved to her reaction to receiving the Grand Rapids Athena® Award. She said she felt very lucky, and thought, "Who would believe it? Right here in Kent County - a little Polish girl becoming a Greek Goddess."

Amid the crowd's laughter, she continued with a hilarious story about her 3D experience when she was a junior at University of Michigan playing on the basketball team.

Starting her sports career at Grand Rapids Community College, Smolenski was proud she made the team at U of M. She said that at the time, in the 1970s, the women all got free tennis shoes, but "the men got eight pairs each. That still kind of bothers me - men have two feet, we have two feet - I'm trying to let that go."

Determined to play in the first game, since, as she put it, "Most of the 50 people in the stands were members of the Smolenski Family of Grand Rapids," she was called into the game when a teammate had difficulty pulling off her warm-up suit. Her efforts to demonstrate that she was not going to be passed over due to a clothing barrier resulted in a surprise ending to the story - one which will not be revealed here, but which Smolenski will share if asked.

Or better stated, not a surprise ending, but a surprise middle, since Smolenski not only played that game and others, she learned the drive and discipline that allowed her to complete law school and win judicial elections.

Published: Fri, Oct 30, 2009