Nettie Carter-Smith's life has been fueled by her passion to serve

From the time she was a young girl growing up in Springfield, Wynette “Nettie” Carter-Smith was surrounded by people who instilled in her the value of hard work.

Throughout her life, the work ethic she carries has paid off in her successes. But, she was also able to use her strength and adaptability to overcome challenges, and her dedication to service has led her to continue to find new ways to give back to others and the community she loves.

One of four kids, Carter-Smith says she had humble beginnings in her big family with young parents. By age 22, her parents already had all four children but didn’t let their family life hinder career goals.

“We learned from a very young age the importance of work,” Carter-Smith says. “Our parents always instilled in us to work hard and help others.

“What I appreciate and still love about my parents today is that they always wanted us and strived for all four of us to have a better life than they did. They pushed us, and I believe that’s exactly what you should do as parents.”

She remembers watching her parents work hard and the real-life example of commitment and dedication her dad gave by putting himself through college while he continued working hard to support their family.

Being the youngest, even younger than her twin brother by two minutes, Carter-Smith says she knew that a scholarship was her ticket to get to go to college.

“I can remember being 12 years old … and my dad was in the kitchen with me, and he looked at me at 12 and he said ‘You know Slim, if you keep your grades up and you work real hard in basketball, you’ll get a basketball scholarship’,” she explains. “So I just started working real hard to play basketball because it was always instilled in us that we were to go to college.”

Nothing But Net(tie)

In addition to her dad, other figures also influenced what would become an accomplished basketball career for Carter-Smith.

In Clark County’s history, there’s been only one state championship girls basketball team, which was a team from the former North High School, Carter-Smith says.

“These girls were phenomenal athletes. They set the bar for girls basketball in Clark County,” she says. “I always looked up to them. They set the standard, and I always admired their motivation. Those girls on that state team really gave me that motivation and helped me because I wanted to be like them.”

Carter-Smith calls basketball her first love, saying she started out playing neighborhood games with her brother and his friends but was driven to play in school. During her first game in 8th grade, she scored 28 points.

She didn’t slow down in high school, racking up accolades for her athleticism, including honors of all-county, all-league, all-region, all-state and more. And with her hard work, Carter-Smith paved the path she needed to earn a basketball scholarship to Wright State University (WSU).

“I just wanted the opportunity to go and compete at that next level,” she says.

Carter-Smith reminisced about the great team she was a part of during her junior year.

Years later, Carter-Smith was honored for her basketball accomplishments both in Springfield and at WSU.

At Wright State, she was inducted into both the Wall of Fame, which specifically honors basketball players, and the Hall of Fame, which is an honor among all athletes.

In Springfield, she was the first female athlete to be inducted into North High’s Wall of Fame. And, after North and South high schools closed and combined into Springfield High School, a collection of coaches and athletes chose to name Carter-Smith as the top female athlete in the history of North High School.

“You don’t think about that stuff, you just work hard, and then 20 years later you get honored – it’s unbelievable,” she says.

Bringing it full circle, Carter-Smith went on to coach at Springfield High for a number of years.

Career Driven Service

After graduating from WSU with a degree in rehabilitation education in August 1988, Carter-Smith was determined to follow where her self-described “heart to serve” led her.

Through connections she had built, she interned in the Clark County Juvenile Court and was eventually placed as a probation officer temporarily. When a permanent position came open for a probation officer job, she jumped at it.

“I was so happy about the job I had. Being able to just try to mentor and help and provide guidance for kids meant so much,” she says. “I really took it to heart. I took it seriously.”

After transitioning to a position in Montgomery County from 1991-95, Carter-Smith earned the job as Chief Probation Officer back in Clark County’s newly restructured Juvenile Court under then Judge Joseph Monnin. She had plans to stay in the role about four year.

But, her position became much longer-term than she planned.

“Judge Monin was a tremendous mentor for me. He took me under his wing,” Carter-Smith says. “He saw things in me from a professional standpoint that I didn’t see in myself. He gave me the platform and the opportunity to have that growth.

“He’s one of the biggest reasons why I stayed”

Carter-Smith ended up dedicating the next more than 30 years of her life to the juvenile court system, completing the Clark County Leadership Academy in 2007 and getting promoted to Court Administrator in 2010.

Not to be overlooked are the many boards Carter-Smith has committed to serving on over the years, including the Clark State Foundation, the African American Community Fund, United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties, Second Harvest Food Bank, Junior Achievement, Rocking Horse Health Center, and more.

Also in 2010, she wed her husband Jamel, who she’ll celebrate 10 years of marriage with at the end of October. Carter-Smith’s family also includes a Goddaughter, who she raised, and her step-daughter.

Changes within the juvenile court starting in 2017 unexpectedly shifted the path Carter-Smith had once seen laid out clearly in front of her. She was eligible for retirement in 2018 and had planned to retire that year – the same year Judge Monnin would retire.

“We’d joke that we came in together, and we’d go out together,” she says.

But, in 2017, the judge announced he would retire early. Then in early 2018, a long-time coworker was murdered.

In October 2018, her husband was diagnosed with a serious heart issue that meant he had to take more than three months off work from his job as a police officer in Cincinnati.

With her husband on the mend and back to work, and a new seated judge who had agreed to keep current employees in their roles, 2019 felt like it would be a breath of fresh air.

But that fresh start came to a sudden halt when Carter-Smith was unexpectedly asked to leave the juvenile court position she had spent more than three decades dedicating her career to.

“You want to close a chapter when you’re ready to close a chapter, and I did not believe I was ready,” she says. “It was probably the hardest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. To do something that you’re passionate about and you work hard for and you believe in and then to not have that anymore through no fault of your own – it was tough.”

Carter-Smith, who is known for her big smile and positive attitude, says she had to do some soul searching.

“I was anxious because I didn’t know what my next step was going to be because that was what I had done for more than half my life,” she says. “It was a challenging time. It was a storm. I was trying to figure out what was my purpose from there.

“It really does humble you, and it really does make you look to God and lean on your faith. It also really does show you who is in your corner and who really supports you during challenging times. And you grow.”

In fall 2019, a temporary position became available at Rocking Horse Health Care Center, which eventually transitioned into a permanent role as a Director of Community Relations.

“You can’t see it when you’re going through the storm, but when I look at it now, this was all part of (God’s) plan,” Carter-Smith says. “It’s all connected. I’m still serving, it’s just in a different vehicle – I’m in a healthcare vehicle now.”

Entrepreneurship and Positive Energy

While still working for juvenile court, Carter-Smith and her husband decided to partner with another couple they are close friends with – Venon and Sunna Bass – in 2015 to form the non-profit Bass Smith Connection (BSC).

The organization annually hosts three events, each created to be a “Party with a Purpose.” Proceeds from the events go directly to provide scholarships to local minority high school graduates and current college students.

But more than providing funding, BSC stays connected with scholarship recipients and provides positive support and encouragement to help these students adjust to college life and tackle any challenges along the way.

Carter-Smith calls the non-profit her passion and hopes to keep expanding the organization in the future.

To throw one more talent into the mix, Carter-Smith also has an established business as a local DJ. She’s known as DJ DIVA and loves this side hustle that allows her to dance and enjoy music while bringing that same joy to others.

“I’ve had a busy life, and I’m thankful for it,” Carter-Smith says.

That busy life, she says, has been guided by a Martin Luther King, Jr., quote: “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

And Carter-Smith graciously added, “That’s part of the drive. I just want to serve. We all have some part to do, and I’m just really trying to do my part.”

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.