Marsha Probst found her calling as a victim’s advocate nearly 10 years ago
Probst stumbled upon the position in an ad
Once Marsha Probst steps into her office, located in the Summit County Sheriff’s administrative building, she never knows what her workday will bring.
As a victim’s advocate, Probst works closely with crime victims and their families as their offenders go through the criminal justice system. She is on call seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Once a case is screened for charges through the Summit County Attorney’s Office, Probst contacts the victims to inform them of their rights and keeps them updated on the status of their cases. When it comes time for a victim to testify, she will help orient them with the prosecutorial process and do “whatever it takes to make them comfortable,” Probst said.
“Every day is different,” Probst said. “Sometimes it’s just dispatch saying, ‘I need you, we’ve had a death or a shooting, or there is a victim who has been really beaten up or raped. You just never know what is going to come up and you think you’ve seen it all, and then some bizarre incident takes place and, it’s like, no one will ever believe this.”
Large doors open on small hinges
Probst, who was born and raised in Pocatello, Idaho, moved to Salem, in the Spanish Fork area, with her husband, Joe, after attending college in her home state. They eventually moved to Midway, where Joe is from, and she worked as flight attendant for United Airlines.
But, after Sept. 11, 2001, she was furloughed from the airlines and decided to go back to school. She was in her mid-40s at the time.
“I did not know what I wanted to do and went back to school three years nonstop. When it came time to matriculate, I decided to go into criminal justice and go to law school,” Probst said.
While taking a class about law and society at Utah Valley University, a guest speaker from the United States District Attorney’s Office essentially talked Probst out of going to law school.
“He said, ‘Oh don’t you dare. There are too many attorneys out there right now and it is hard to get work,’” Probst said. “It was a little disheartening after getting a degree. But I will never forget, he said, ‘Remember, large doors open on small hinges.’”
On the U.S. attorney’s advice, Probst returned home after graduation and noticed an ad in The Park Record for the victim’s advocate position with the Summit County Attorney’s Office.
She was hired in 2006 and became director a couple months later.
Reinventing the wheel
Probst said she was alone in the beginning. While her predecessor had focused on the law-enforcement aspect of victim’s advocacy, she felt the office should be more prosecutorial-based.
“I just reinvented the wheel,” Probst said. “I counted a lot on NOVA, the National Organization for Victim Assistance. I jumped in there and got a lot of training through them.”
She currently serves on the board of directors, and is a former president, treasurer and secretary for the organization. NOVA also helps train victim’s advocates and sexual assault responders in the military.
Probst said her goal on the national level is to create a bachelor’s degree program for victim assistance.
“I think they are as crucial to the process as the defense attorney,” Probst said.
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez said the county and city’s victim assistance programs provide hope to those who don’t really know where to go or who to turn to.
“Marsha has been a source of calmness and peace during turbulent times,” Martinez said. “She has been able to bring them hope and she has that demeanor that makes them feel safe. She is an absolute angel and there is a special place in heaven for Marsha and what she does.”
Patricia Cassell, chief prosecutor with the Summit County Attorney’s Office, said the role of a victim’s advocate is key.
‘They offer support. As prosecutors, we don’t always have the time to sit down with the victims and they do a much better job of explaining the process for them and sort of being the middleman,” Cassell said.
Forming tight bonds
Probst often interacts with families and victims during some of the most tragic moments in their lives. She said “pretty tight bonds” can be formed, but “you try not to overstep that professional line.”
“One of the families I worked with, their daughter had overdosed on drugs and her mother sent me some of the artwork her daughter had done in grade school,” Probst said. “There was also a young mother who had died on vacation here and her young daughter was there and I basically tended to her…The girl’s mother’s boyfriend ended up adopting her and he called me a year later just to tell me how the story ended and he said, ‘Thank you.’”
Probst referred to the memories and items as keepsakes. She said her own four children, who range in age between 30 and 40, often ask her “What are you thinking? You are always on call and don’t get paid well.”
“I tell them I do it because the legacy I am leaving you and my grandkids about what was important to my life. It isn’t the paycheck, it is the impact that you can make on people and the legacy you leave your kids,” Probst said.
‘I do dream about it…and I can’t block it out’
Probst admitted that some days are harder than others and she can become emotionally and physically drained from the situations she encounters.
“Some days I come home and I can be really depressed. I will just sit and veg-out in front of a bunch of old Turner Classic Movies,” Probst said. “When I am done with my day, I don’t want to talk about it, but I do dream about it, think about it and I can’t block it out.”
Probst said she will likely retire in March, but will continue working on a national level with NOVA. She said she feels comfortable leaving the program with Megan Galati, the county attorney’s part-time victim advocate.
“I feel like this was my large door on small hinges and the large door was the opening up the opportunity for me to make a difference nationwide,” Probst said. “I grew up thinking I knew what I wanted to do (flight attendant), but that was what I wanted to do. This is really what I was meant to do.”
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.