Written by W. Evan Golder
Former Nampa, Idaho, Police Chief Alan Creech helps a boy with his Christmas shopping as part of the Shop with a Cop program. The program pairs police officers with low-income youth, who otherwise may not get to buy gifts. Idaho Press-Tribune file photo (December 2000).
Every now and then you read an obituary about someone who seems very special—and you say to yourself, I wish I'd known that person.
Alan Creech was such a man.
He was a police chief and moderator of both his local UCC church and his Conference. He was a juvenile delinquent who had nearly dropped out of high school but, when he died, was within a few courses of getting his Master's degree.
And, according to many of the speakers who addressed the crowd of more than 3,000 at his memorial service, he was a husband, father and grandfather, lawman and mentor, deacon and role model, camp director, counselor, hunter, fisherman, jokester, golfer, runner, kayaker, bicyclist, cross country skier and avid camper.
But mostly he was a man of deep faith who said very clearly that his faith was a great resource for his work as a police officer.
"I found him to be incredibly grounded in his faith," says the Rev. Héctor E. L?ez, Central Pacific Conference Minister. "I'll always think of him and his great love of the local church, especially that little church in Nampa, and of his great love of camping ministry.">
It was that urge to enhance the camping ministry of First Congregational UCC in Nampa, Idaho, that led to his death. On June 21, Creech, 48, and his best friend, Reserve Officer Mark Hupe, were killed when Hupe's Beechcraft Bonanza crashed into the forest. The two men were scouting wilderness campsites to augment the church's camp at Pilgrim Cove in McCall, Idaho.
"Alan wanted to go and do a different thing," says the Rev. Philip Oliver, interim pastor in Nampa. "He wanted to take a group of youth and take them to the wilderness.">
Attitude had changed
A week before he died, while sitting on his back porch with Oliver, Creech told him that through the United Church of Christ his whole attitude toward other people had changed.
According to Oliver, Creech told him, "My involvement with the UCC has affected my whole attitude toward diversity." Creech said that because of the UCC, he began to be inclusive in his hiring practices. "He hired blacks, he hired Hispanics, he hired women," says Oliver. "And this was not always easy, because this is a very conservative area in Idaho.">
"He helped integrate the police force," says L?ez. "He felt that, in order to police a community, the police force has to reflect the community it is policing.">
Creech grew up moving in and out of foster homes, while both his parents battled alcohol and substance abuse. He went to jail twice and was on probation the first time he tried to get into law enforcement. A review board gave him a second chance, and he passed the entrance exam on his first effort. In 1974, at the age of 21, he joined the Nampa Police Department and in 2000, he became its chief.
In 1999, when he was Assistant Police Chief, he told the Idaho Press-Tribune that nothing is more important in fighting crime than adults getting involved early and often in a child's life. Children need proof that adults care, he said.
He tried to model that belief in his own life. He took leadership in building the Nampa Boys and Girls Club, then put a police sub-station right next door. He was active in the Shop with a Cop program, which pairs officers with low-income youth who otherwise may not get a chance to buy Christmas gifts. And every year he directed a week-long church camp.
At the memorial service for Creech and Hupe, the Rev. Charlottie Havlicak of McCall Community UCC told how Creech awoke one night to noises in the kitchen tent. Standing in front of the tent in his boxer shorts, Creech ordered the intruder to come out. It did—but it was a bear with a can of bacon grease, not a burglar. Creech allowed the suspect to leave with the goods, she said.
God gave opportunity
According to Havlicak, the Creech family—Alan, Laura, his wife of 30 years, and their three children—all played active roles in the small, tightly knit Nampa church.
"He was a fine man," she says, "very sincere with his feelings.">
Two weeks before his death, Creech counseled a fellow student at Boise State University, Marilee Cross, while she gave him a lift to a restaurant. Later she wrote about that conversation.
"I do what I do because I care about God and his people and I really feel blessed that God has given me the opportunity to help in any way I can," she remembers him saying. He continued, "People have told me that I have really contributed a lot to the force and to the community, but I don't like to hear things like that. I do it because I want to, and for no other reason. I could die tomorrow and be at peace with the accomplishments God has provided.">
"When Alan died, people said, 'What are we going to do?'" says Oliver. "And I said, 'We're going to have to step up and be the church that Alan knew we could be.' We're still processing this. This church is going to be processing this for years.">
Profiles in Faith is about models of faith in the United Church of Christ. The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.