personal life and education
Melissa is a Springfield native and graduated from Republic High School in 1985.
Neither of her parents went to college, and Melissa wanted to provide a solid future for herself, so she enrolled at Southwest Missouri State (now MSU) after high school. Since her parents didn’t have a lot of money, she worked her way through college by holding various jobs. She worked as an assembly worker at Zenith Television factory, a sales clerk at the Battlefield Mall, a lifeguard at the West Plains Country Club, and a night dispatcher at Prime Trucking. In her sophomore year, she met her future husband, Cary Stewart, in economics class.
She moved to West Plains and attended the MSU campus for a more personal and specialized education she wasn’t getting on the larger campus in Springfield. After two semesters of studies in West Plains, she and Cary returned to Springfield to complete higher level courses and graduate. In 1990, Melissa obtained a bachelor of science degree in communications from Southwest Missouri State University.
Melissa quickly learned that the outgoing Cary shared similar beliefs, and he was also a doer and helper, willing to get involved in local community and church events. In 1993, Melissa and Cary made West Plains their permanent home and were married at the First Baptist Church.
Growing up, Melissa enjoyed Nancy Drew mysteries and who-done-it shows like The Rockford Files, Hart to Hart, Charlie’s Angels, and Quincy. When LA Law aired in the late 80s, it cultivated Melissa’s lifelong interest in the legal profession and solving problems. In 2000, she graduated from the Tulsa College of Law and began practicing law in West Plains the following year.
Today, Melissa practices law and is involved in her community. As well, her husband Cary has a passion for his hometown and currently serves on the city council. They have three children and belong to the First Presbyterian Church. Faith in God is very important in their lives. Melissa enjoys traveling and showing her children new places. Her family enjoys water sports on the lake, jet skiing, swimming, and fishing. They enjoy Silver Dollar City, and though she might not venture out onto a roller coaster, her kids love them. They all do agree on fishing for trout, and each year make a trip to the Rockbridge Trout Ranch.
After graduating from law school in Tulsa, Melissa was eager to hang out her shingle. In 2001, she opened up her practice at 1 Luster Arcade on the square in downtown West Plains. Three years ago, she moved to her new location at 201 Main Street.
In her practice, she is often a counselor and an advocate. For sixteen years, she was the designated local attorney to represent those civilly committed due to addiction or mental illness. Over the last decade, her understanding has grown with regard to the law and mental health. No matter a client’s situation, Melissa knows that court matters can be stressful. She is committed to educating her clients about what to expect. Even if the outcome might not be what they desired at times, they are educated about the possibilities.
For the last fifteen years, Melissa has served as a certified guardian ad litem, a person who helps advocate for children in custody matters or in circumstances of abuse and neglect. In 2009, she began service as a certified mediator who counsels parents in custody disputes. Melissa enjoys making a difference for parents who are learning how to co-parent their children in separate homes. Her mentoring of these parents helps the families, the community, and the court dockets by ensuring they have fewer contested cases. For families, she also provides estate planning and helps people securely map out their inheritance.
Currently, Melissa serves as the assistant prosecutor for the 37th Judicial Circuit as the child support prosecutor. In this role, she is dedicated to being firm in upholding the law requiring support for minor children by the noncustodial parent.
In all this work, Melissa feels indebted to her administrative assistant, Jill Eldringhoff, who is truly family and has been working in the office for the last sixteen years.
Melissa is deeply and graciously involved in her community. She works with organizations that have outreach components to many parts of the four-county region.
In 2014, the Ozarks Medical Center (OMC) Board of Directors recruited her to serve as the board treasurer, and she happily complied as she believes OMC provides an invaluable service to the area residents. She has learned a great deal about healthcare protocols, requirements, reimbursements, and insurance—valuable knowledge in her work as a lawyer and prospective judge.
Melissa’s law practice has been awarded the Business of the Week by the West Plains Chamber of Commerce and also the Business of the Month from the West Plains Board of City Pride. In 2017, her practice was voted the “Best of the Best Law Firm” in the West Plains Daily Quill opinion poll.
Melissa believes in the phrase, “Bloom where you are planted.” When opportunities present themselves, she loves to help out at local charities and organizations. She invites you to make a positive impact, too. Below is a list of organizations where she has served or currently serves.
• MSU-WP Sweetheart Auction Committee
• Friends of the Garnett Library
• Christos House Board of Directors
• West Plains Country Club Board of Directors
• West Plains Library Board
• MARCH Mediation Board of Directors
• West Plains Chamber of Commerce Board
• Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors
• Ozarks Medical Center Board of Directors
• MSU-WP Development Board