Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

January 27, 2013

Out of the clerk’s office, on to the Village Council

Longtime Antrim official continues to serve

BELLAIRE — There's nothing retiring about Laura Sexton.

At 71, she's just entering retirement from 32 years as Antrim County clerk. Meanwhile, she has already served five months on the Bellaire Village Council.

Sexton also has no plans to give up the volunteer record-keeping she's done for years — keeping track of the basketball game rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers made by the Bellaire Eagles.

Her husband, Stan Sexton, is now in his 50th year of coaching for Bellaire — 24 years with the boys' varsity team. And he holds some records of his own. He was inducted into the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan's Hall of Fame in 2011. His career win-loss count at the end of the 2011-2012 season was 405-131. His teams have won 10 Ski Valley Conference titles, 16 district championships, five regionals and three Final Four appearances. The Eagles' record as of last week was 7-0 for the season.

The Sextons, who grew up in Bellaire, will celebrate their 50th anniversary in November. They have three daughters and three grandchildren.

Sexton retired as Antrim County clerk Dec. 31, ending an 87-year family run as county clerk, an elected office that she, her aunt, grandmother and grandfather before her have held since 1925.

She spent a total of 42 years in the clerk's office — 10 as deputy clerk and 32 as county clerk from 1981 through 2012. But she actually started "helping" her grandmother and aunt in the clerk's office in 1953, when she was 11. One of her "jobs" then was to pre-stamp envelopes.

"I thought it was very important work," she said, laughing. "Years later, I realized that in order to put a stamp on, you had to lick it. My grandmother didn't like the taste. If I came, it was a blessing for her."

Over that 60-year span, she's seen the clerk's office go from handwritten records and non-electric hand-pull adding machines to computerization of almost everything.

County clerks in Michigan oversee all elections in the county, elections commissions, board of canvassers and recall petitions. They attend and keep minutes of county commission board meetings but do not vote on issues. They manage the county payroll.

By statute, they serve as clerk for the Circuit Court and its family division of circuit court. They keep records of divorce, civil cases and felony criminal cases. They set up jury trials. They keep the counties' vital records — births, deaths, marriage licenses, assumed business names.

That's a lot of paper.

Antrim County's records date back to 1865. The clerk's office stores them electronically and on microfilm as backups. The original paper records are considered the official document.

"Paper is still the longest-lasting medium for keeping records," Sexton said. "Electronic equipment changes so often. If we'd saved records on floppy disks when they first came out, we wouldn't be able to open them today."

Sexton is the great-granddaughter of William Mohrmann, one of Antrim County's early settlers. Mohrmann emigrated from Germany to Chicago in 1852, served in the Civil War, survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and came to Antrim County in 1874 to homestead three miles north of Central Lake.

Today, the Mohrmann Nature Area, a 250-acre county park about six miles north of Bellaire on the east side of Intermediate Lake, is named for the family. A plaque on a boulder there lists the family's four county clerks.

The first Mohrmann to be elected county clerk was her grandfather, Fred, a Central Lake general store owner. He won three two-year terms but died of a heart attack in 1928. County supervisors in 1929 appointed his wife, Laura "Minnie" Mohrmann, who had been working alongside her husband as his unpaid deputy clerk, to fill his shoes until the next election in 1930.

"The appointment was somewhat controversial, according to family lore," Sexton said. "Women had only been able to vote for a few years and the appointment of women as county clerks was rare."

Minnie ran successfully for the office in 1930 and every two years after that until her retirement in 1948. Her daughter Laura, who was her deputy at various times, ran successfully in 1948 for the office and also won several more terms, serving a total of 32 years until she retired in 1980.

Sexton, her niece and deputy clerk then ran successfully for eight four-year terms, serving from 1981 through 2012.

The new Antrim County clerk is Sheryl Guy, who began working in the courthouse in 1981.

Sexton said she'd never thought about serving on the village council until last summer when a council member suggested that she apply to fill a vacant seat because she would bring "a wealth of knowledge and experience" to the table. Her first reaction was surprise, but she decided to do it after checking with Prosecutor Charles Koop to make sure it was legal to be on the council while she was still clerk.

"I got to thinking about it and realized that if I did serve on the council, it would be the first board or commission I could be part of and could vote," she said. "That's what made up my mind. I am interested in the village, particularly parks and recreation."

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