PORTAGE — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb told Porter Superior Court Judge Julia Jent Wednesday afternoon she is a living and breathing personification of the American dream.
Just one day before 71-year-old Jent brings 21 years of service on the bench to an end, the governor drew attention to how Jent rose from humble roots as an orphan in Germany to join the U.S. Army at the age of 18, raise four children and take advantage of educational opportunities afforded by her military service to pursue a career in law.
Holcomb was among the many dignitaries on hand to honor Jent during the 12th graduation ceremony of veterans court, the last time she will oversee the ceremonies before being replaced by gubernatorial-appointee Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Mike Drenth.
"She was the pioneer who started this court," Holcomb said.
He said he has received calls from many others seeking advice on how to get their own veterans court going.
The veterans treatment court gives accepted veterans the opportunity to clear themselves of criminal charges if they are able to comply with the terms of a highly structured program. Jent has overseen the court in addition to her other duties on the bench.
Holcomb said the program reflects well on the values of the state.
"Hoosiers helping Hoosiers every step of the way," he said.
He recognized the accomplishment of the six veterans court graduates and said civilians cannot understand "what your eyes have seen and what you've endured." He asked who among the larger group has not made mistakes and assured the veterans they are still respected.
"Going through this program is just a giant step in the right direction," he said. "This is a transformational process."
While several of the speakers during Wednesday's ceremony at Woodland Park in Portage said Jent did not want her retirement to distract from the accomplishments of the graduates, she wound up at least sharing the spotlight.
Porter County PACT Director Tammy O'Neill thanked Jent for her service to the country, as well as the local community and criminal justice system.
She said Jent carried out those duties with dignity, perseverance and passion.
"Because of you, we are better," O'Neill said. "We carry you in our hearts and consider you a dear friend."
Jent, who struggled not to be overcome with emotion, pointed out to the graduating veterans who were all there to celebrate their accomplishment.
"All we expect from you is admit you need help and get in and work," she said.
Jent thanked her veterans court team, and the many veterans and veterans groups that help make the program such a success. She called on the group to support Drenth, who will soon be taking over reins.
"I wish you luck," she said to Drenth, who was in attendance alongside several seated judges and magistrates. "It's a hard job, but you're up to it."
Acknowledging the foreign externs brought to the event by Indiana Supreme Court Judge Steven David, Jent encouraged the group to see a better side of America than is often portrayed.
"This is the heart and soul of our country," she said of the proceedings.
Jent has said she is retiring to spend time with her husband of 52 years, Jack Jent, a former Portage Township trustee, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Jent was appointed by Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh in 1997 to replace Republican Mary Harper, who now presides over the Porter Circuit Court.