By ANNA BROWN
It was a typical day for Melinda Inman Butler, then a single mother waiting tables at a local restaurant.
Her third grade EMERGE teacher, Pat Haney, came in for lunch and made a comment that both stunned her and set her mind to working.
“She said, ‘Melinda, I’m not trying to be mean, but you are wasting your talents. I know how smart you are, I was your teacher. There is so much you could be doing with yourself.’” Mrs. Butler remembers.
Mrs. Haney told Mrs. Butler she ought to go to college. She said USC-Union was a good place to start; financial aid was available and officials there would guide Mrs. Butler through the process.
“A month later I was in college,” Mrs. Butler said.
That was the beginning of an educational journey that took Mrs. Butler all the way through law school. She earned her juris doctor from Regent University in 2008 and recently returned to Union and opened her practice.
Mrs. Butler started college with a psychology class taught by Dr. Steve Buchanan in 2000. Despite the fact that she had been out of school for five years, she made an “A.” In fact, she never made less than an “A” in any course at the school.
She remembers teachers who were willing to help students and willing to talk with them not just about a course, but also about life and problems they were having. One particular favorite was history professor Dr. Allan Charles.
“He turned me on to history so much that I minored in history,” she said. “He opens it up and lets you know it’s very relevant to the present. The teachers there are brilliant. They could be teaching anywhere but I feel like they chose to be here because they are dedicated to Union and making the community and the students better.”
In December of 2004 she graduated from USC-Upstate with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in history. She was second in the class of 283 students and finished summa cum laude.
During the summer of 2003, Mrs. Butler had been an intern at the Union County Office of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. She said Agent Dawn Schick took her under her wing and introduced her to various people who worked in criminal justice locally, including then-16th Circuit Solicitor Tommy Pope and Holly Blackwell, paralegal in the solicitor’s office. Mrs. Butler asked if she could volunteer in the office and her offer was accepted. She began working four or five hours a day two days a week. Later, when the juvenile arbitration coordinator position came open, Mrs. Butler was offered the job.
Mrs. Butler knew she wanted to go to law school — particularly a Christian law school — but with three children she did not know how she could accomplish this.
She was accepted at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., one of the only American Bar Association accredited law schools in the United States. She left Union in July of 2005 with her three children — Blake, Jacob and Molli; her mother, Cynthia; little brother, Wyatt and sister, Lacey.
“That first year of law school was like getting on a roller coaster,” she said. “I like roller coasters, but this one wasn’t stopping. I just held on with everything I had.”
Housing for the family was a challenge. After the first year, they moved on campus into Regent Village.
Lacey went to work at Sears and took college courses. Cynthia stayed at home with Mrs. Butler’s children. Mrs. Butler put her nose to the grindstone and studied. She found herself in a very diverse group. There were class members from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
The second semester of her second year of law school, Mrs. Butler said a miracle occurred. She and her longtime love and the father of her children, Jason Butler, were married.
“God worked a miracle, we were able to work through our differences and Jason moved to Virginia Beach with us.”
Other than parenting, Mrs. Butler said law school is the most rewarding thing she has ever done.
“I was able to grow and learn so much about myself, about the world,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t trade anything for it. There were a lot of sacrifices but it was so much worth it.”
Though the Butlers and their children came home to Union County, Mrs. Butler’s mother and sister liked Virginia Beach so much they remained. Cynthia is working and involved in her church and Lacey married a local man and they are expecting a baby.
Mrs. Butler was one of around 140 graduates of the Regent University Law School Class of 2008. In July of 2008, Mrs. Butler took the South Carolina Bar Exam. During the weeks prior, everywhere she went she took her Ipod home study with her in her ear. She camped out in the corner of the library at USC-Union.
She was sworn in by the State Supreme Court on Nov. 17 and then had to fulfill a requirement that she sit through four complete trials.
Then, she began looking for office space in Union County.
She remembers standing in the parking lot of her church, Covenant Baptist, with her pastor, Chuck Parrott and his wife, Renee. They prayed she would find office space close by.
About three weeks later, an “office space for lease” sign went up at Allergy Partners of the Foothills office right across the road from the church on Medical Sciences Drive. The office manager told Mrs. Butler the space had never been rented before, but she had gone before the company’s board and told them that God had laid a burden on her heart that someone needed office space.
“It was total confirmation of everything I knew I was supposed to be doing,” she said. “I have known from the beginning that this was not possible for me to do on my own. God put me on this path and I would have never made it without his leadership and guidance. I am very thankful for that.”
A dedication service for the office was held on Feb. 7. There, it was announced that Mrs. Butler and he husband have another baby on the way, due in October. Jason also has another son, Raygan.
Mrs. Butler is operating a general practice and also accepts Social Security Disability claim cases. In March, she made her first appearance in the Union County Courtroom representing defendants in Criminal Court. She said inmate rights are very important to her. Her father, Timothy Blalock, is serving a life sentence in federal prison. She remains in constant contact with him through letters and phone calls and hopes to visit him this summer in Colorado.
“He has changed his life around,” Mrs. Butler said. “He was saved in 1995 which led to me and my sister going to where we have.”
Mrs. Butler said she owes all of her success to God and she realizes He knew the plan He had for her life long ago.
“I encourage people the way my teacher encouraged me that day she came into Andy’s,” Mrs. Butler said. “I’m not any different from anybody else. Anybody can do what I did. It just takes dedication and hanging on throughout the ride. No matter what comes along, you have got to hang on.”