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NACOGDOCHES COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Citizen of the Year

Citizen of the Year wears a badge, shows compassion

By Bruce R. Partain
President/CEO
Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce

The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce has named Sgt. Greg Sowell as the 2012 Citizen of the Year. The award is made annually by the Chamber’s board of directors and was presented at the Chamber’s 91st Annual Meeting and Membership Banquet presented by Andrews & Andrews Attorneys at Law, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012.

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Young Greg Sowell surveyed the busy intersection. The five-year-old boy crossed the brick street in downtown Nacogdoches, his hand held firmly by his mother, and his eyes focused on the uniformed officer directing traffic. 

As the boy passed by the police officer, he tugged at the sleeve of the uniform that fascinated him.  “Hey mister,” Greg’s tiny voice pleaded. “Can I have a job?”

Greg Sowell laughs as he recounts the story. “I don’t remember that happening, but my parents told that tale many times,” he said.

Young Greg knew early what he wanted to do with his life. By 1975 he was a police Explorer Scout, spending hours at the police station and “seeing a few things I probably was too young to have seen.”

Graduating from Nacogdoches High School in 1979, he was hired as a police dispatcher in 1980 and became the youngest patrolman in NPD history at age 20 years, 3 months. “I bugged the chief every day until he finally gave me the chance,” Sowell said.  After graduating from the East Texas Police Academy in 1981, he became the department’s youngest detective in 1985 and remained in that position for nine years, when he left to help form the new Nacogdoches Independent School District police department, under the direction of Doug Plough.

In 2002, he returned to NPD as Community Services and Public Information Officer. Altogether, he’s worked under seven police chiefs over a 32-year career.

Bryan Holt Davis served as Nacogdoches County Attorney for 35 years. “Greg dates back to the old-fashioned days of the police department,” Davis said. “Things were done differently.  Let’s say they were very effective.  But Greg was always kind to people – not abusive or harsh.”

Sowell’s good nature sometimes makes him an easy target.

“Every Monday morning we start the week with a staff meeting to review the prior weekend and the coming weeks' activities,” Nacogdoches Police Chief Jim Sevey said. “I can't wait to see what Greg was into over the weekend. Greg is usually the center of attention as he discusses the weekend’s adventures with his family. It almost always involves cooking and other family activities and he takes the merciless ribbing in stride. Only on a few occasions has he had to leave the room in frustration!”

Even though he’s worked many crime scenes and tracked murder suspects, it was a force of nature that gave Sowell second thoughts about his police abilities. “Hurricane Rita was something we’d never seen before,” he recalled. “It was the only time I felt uncomfortable. I was concerned there were people who needed help and we wouldn’t be able to get to them.”

Being at the center of the action still motivates the veteran police officer.

“Greg is always there when you need him, most of the time you don't even have to call,” Assistant Chief Mike Kelly said. “Even after all the years in law enforcement, if he thinks something is going on that he can help with he shows up ready to do whatever is needed.  Actually, he gets a little upset if you don't call when something is going on.”

Sowell’s determination to help others also appears in the non-law enforcement areas of his life.  As a board member and now president of the Nacogdoches Senior Center, Sowell has shown his heart and compassion.  “I grew up in that neighborhood,” he said. “And I really do believe in respect for the elderly.”  

Working with director Tammy Blank and her staff, Sowell learned that one of the biggest challenges was meeting state requirements with a limited budget. 

“There are a lot of unfunded mandates,” he said. “We’d tightened the belt a lot, but it wasn’t enough. So we called the state and conferred with agencies to try to modify the rules and regulations. For example, they require that home-delivered meals are served according to a certain schedule. We showed that we could provide the same quality of service while keeping our food and transportation costs in line. 

“In 2010, we enlisted the help of Rep. Christian, Senator Nichols, the City and the County in a joint effort. We received permission to modify the service, and it kept the doors open.

“We’ve begun looking ahead.  That’s the greatest generation using the facility now. The Boomers are figuratively in the parking lot, looking at the door. They have different needs and wants. We received a grant to put in an exercise room and walking track, with help from Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition, Dr. DawnElla Rust, Assistant Chief Mike Kelly and DETCOG.”

Sowell says in-kind labor to build the track and SFA students volunteering as trainers will provide a well-rounded wellness and fitness program for the center. 

With a career that began with youthful enthusiasm and is now centered on helping the elderly, Sgt. Greg Sowell has shown how a public servant can both respond and take the lead in making a difference.

"If Greg and I didn't work together I would still want him for a friend,” Chief Sevey said. “Greg is truly a Nacogdoches fixture and a fine representative of what is Nacogdoches' best product- its people.” 




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