Jefferson City News Tribune
JEFFERSON CITY—Sheriff Greg White is best known for his time in law enforcement, but it is his time out of the sheriff’s office that helps White cope with the day-to-day of being the Cole County sheriff.
White is an ordained Baptist preacher who was instrumental in starting nine churches and a Bible study thousands of miles away from Jefferson City.
White moved to Alaska after he received his graduate degree in outdoor education from then-Central Missouri State University.
“I saw photos (of Alaska) when I was a junior at JCHS and thought I should live there. I got off the plane with $240, the end of a one-way ticket and my luggage in Sitka in southeast Alaska,” White said. “That was Sept. 16. On Nov. 10, I was hired by the Citga Police Department. I worked in Citga, Juneau and Petersburg.”
While he was a police officer, White said, many people ministered to him.
“I came to Christ in my patrol car on April 1, 1980, at 1:50 in the morning,” he said. “Then I joined a church. More people went there than anywhere else.”
While living in Alaska, White met his wife — a missionary for Christian radio. White and his family moved back to Missouri to let his sons get to know their grandfather — the superintendent of Algoa. White’s father had health concerns.
“We felt it was the best way to honor him for the boys to get to know Grandpa Carl and Grandpa Carl to get to know the boys,” he said.
When he moved back, he was hired by the Jefferson City Police Department. He worked in narcotics — a job he was familiar with having worked statewide narcotics in Alaska. He worked several jobs before settling in as a school resource officer for seven years.
The year 2009 was not an easy one for law enforcement in and around Cole County. In October, a 9-year-old girl named Elizabeth Olten went missing. After a week-long investigation with hundreds of volunteers searching the wooded area near Olten’s house, law enforcement found her body. Subsequently, a 15-year-old neighbor was arrested for the crime. The case is still processing so White could not say much about the crime, but the support system the sheriff’s office had was astounding, according to White.
“It was Saturday night, and for us, almost everything was done except for filing some reports. We were sitting on the couch, and my wife had her laptop open to her Facebook page,” White said, full of emotion. “She asked if I had ever heard of Emily and then said a last name I’d never heard before. I said no. Evie said the woman had messaged her on Facebook, asking if we had ever lived in Alaska. Evie messaged her back that we had, and the woman sent back her maiden name. I had given her driving test when she was 16.”
White’s wife gave the woman her phone number so they could catch up. During a two-and-a-half-hour conversation, the woman revealed she had seen White’s picture on Fox News in a story about the Olten case and then made the contact with his wife. The woman told White she had been praying for him through the ordeal.
“When I talk about people praying for us, I mean we had prayers from Alaska through Washington, Oregon and California. We had prayer from the East Coast down through Florida. There were people in Texas and all the way back in Jefferson City,” he said. “We talk about how important volunteering was and just as important were all the people out there praying for us.
“We have a community of faith that I believe is untouched anywhere in the world and a local community that is incredible.”
White’s family was also important in getting through the trying times at the end of 2009.
“When I would leave one of the operations centers and drive to the other, there were times I knew my son Josiah was in class so he couldn’t answer his phone, but if I dialed the number, I’d hear his voice on the voicemail,” he said. “I love being able to call my wife any time and just ask for prayer.”
After Olten’s body was found, White brought in a local mental health professional to help the deputies talk about what they had seen and experienced. White said he was impressed at how many of the deputies opened up for the psychologist.
For White, there is not much of a difference between pastoring, being a school resource officer and being sheriff.
“A woman asked me before the last election what the difference was between pastoring a large church and being sheriff. I told her the only difference was the amount of force you could use,” he said. “I thought back and she probably thought I was talking Glock, but I was talking about the pulpit.
“The church has more force, but in many ways that’s what we do. When you respond to a fatality and you go to the house to hold the parents’ hands and give the death notification, it’s never an easy thing. We have hope and we can give hope. I’ve got good people. We aren’t perfect, but the fact is we’ve got good people, and that’s the central focus of what we do.”