Called to bury, called to sing

By Greg Gelpi

Lifting his voice to the heavens, Steve White spends his days putting people in the ground. Both are his calling.

White, 54, a funeral director at Thomas L. Scroggs Tara Garden Chapel funeral home, is celebrating his 25th year as a member of The Jonesmen Quartet, a gospel singing group.

Although his activities run the full gamut from working with families during difficult times to raising spirits with joyous singing, he said both are his calling in life and both are part of his ministry.

"It's a little bit shifting of gears," White said. "I kind of feel that my job is a calling."

He said he began singing in the choir when he was old enough to sing and was picked by his minister at Jones Memorial First United Methodist Church in Morrow to form a gospel group 25 years ago.

"I wasn't really interested in gospel music until then," White, one of the original members of the group, said. "It's really grown into a ministry more than just performing."

Since then, his music ministry has taken off. He, along with Larry Alberts, Ronnie Wang, Phil Guptill and Walter Sheppard, performs at churches, nursing homes, jails and homeless shelters.

"I think it's the person," Sheppard said. "He has a gift."

Sheppard, the other original member, said the group will continue to sing for 30 or 35 years to come or "until we lose our voices."

He called White both his "best friend" and "probably one of the best bass singers in the area."

Sheppard said many have commented that they wish they could sing like White.

"A lot of it wasn't that I was a fan of gospel music, it was people kept asking us to sing," White said.

The group has also played larger venues, such as the Georgia Dome during the kickoff of the United Methodist Church Vision 2000.

His career with the funeral home began about 11 years ago. Prior to that, his work as the store manager of a tire and auto service center left him feeling empty, he said.

"I was never happy with that," White said. "I knew there was something I should be doing. I feel with my Christian background I have an edge with the families (working as a funeral director)."

The Jonesmen Quartet will celebrate the group's 25th anniversary at 3 p.m. March 7 at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church. The group will perform and have a reception following.