VERO BEACH – The late Judge Graham Stikelether Jr.’s family and friends gathered Wednesday afternoon in the rotunda of the Indian River County Courthouse to remember the colorful, friendly ensurer of justice.
With a flourish of fabric, a tall glass and wood case was unveiled. Inside, a multi-colored hand-woven judicial robe, created by a Seminole Indian woman, Leona Smith.
“It’s just been such an honor for us to” dedicate the robe to the Indian River County Courthouse, Judge Stikelether’s daughter, Debbie Kanehl, said.
Just prior to the unveiling, Kanehl told the assembled audience that she talks with him quite a bit.
“You know Daddy, he liked to talk,” she said, eliciting a quiet murmur from someone in the audience who whispered – “Like a preacher.”
Kanehl spoke on behalf of her family, who included her husband, Michael; her sister, Lori (Trey) Higdon; her brother Graham III (Rita); and Stikelether’s granddaughter.
Standing around the case, Kanehl’s hands flew to her mouth as the robe was revealed.
“It’s absolutely exquisite,” she breathed. “I just don’t know what to say.”
Those gathered shared their own stories of the judge, recalling a man who loved history, learning about Native Americans, and preserving justice.
“We talked endless hours,” said Norman A. Green, who met Judge Stikelether in 1975 – he a prosecutor with an office next door.
He said the judge was always willing to open his door at night and on the weekends to issue warrants when needed.
Attorney Buck Vocelle said Judge Stikelether was a friendly man who always asked about the family.
“He took a long time at it,” Vocelle said, chuckling with the memory.
He recalled one hearing during which Judge Stikelether spent 15 minutes asking about Vocelle’s family. The opposing counsel asked the judge at one point if he even had a chance, Vocelle said.
“He was eccentric,” he added. “That was part of his charm.”
Clerk of the Circuit Court Jeff Barton was the finance and budget director at the time Judge Stikelether was on the bench. He said he had a “lot of good and funny” stories and memories of the judge, but he wasn’t going to share.
“He was a little bit of a character,” Barton said. “He was kind, but you knew where you stood.”
Judge Stikelether served as the county’s only judge from 1972 to 1984, going back to private practice until 2002, when he retired.
Along with serving as a judge, Stikelether was a founding member and a member of the board of directors for the Indian River County Historical Society.