Colleagues, friends miss Sanders’ smile

Robert Smith
Pamela Sanders

When correctional officer Pamela Ruth Sanders died May 12, the Osage County jail lost an angel.

County jails and sheriffs offices are well acquainted with loss and sad stories, but Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden and members of his staff felt the pain of loss more acutely in the aftermath of Sanders’ passing on Mothers Day morning. Sanders, 66, was a veteran, highly experienced detention officer, known among her colleagues for a mixture of by-the-book strictness and encouraging kindness.

“She always brought a little bit of sunshine” Virden said Thursday, following Sanders’ funeral service. “She didn’t seek any glory; she just did a good job, did it 100%. The world’s just a little sadder place without her. She was a light in a dark place.”

Sanders was born in November 1952 in Pawhuska, but had worked several years as a corrections officer in the San Bernardino, California, area before going to work in 2005 for Osage County. Virden recalls Sanders was working for the county when he came on-board as a deputy. About the time Virden became sheriff, in early 2017, Sanders had to step away from her job for a while for medical reasons but she remained committed to returning to work.

“Sheriff, don’t give my job away because I’ll be back,” Virden recalled Sanders telling him with a smile.

“She was just an exceptional person. She did a fantastic job,” Virden said. He recalled Sanders didn’t dwell on her hardships; instead, she would ask him how his family was doing.

Gil DuPont, the jail lieutenant at the Osage County jail, said Sanders didn’t ask anything more of other corrections staffers than she demanded of herself. She followed the rules and expected everyone else would, too, he said. Co-worker Jennifer DuPont said Sanders had been back at the job for a year as of the end of April 2019.

Investigator Ronnie Stevens described Sanders as a fair-minded person who treated everyone with respect.

“She treated everybody the same — inmates, the public, co-workers,” Stevens said.

Sanders was also a person of profound religious faith, and was a licensed evangelist. B. David Gambill, her pastor at Emmanuel Church of God in Christ, in Pawhuska, said Sanders followed the Bible in ministry and in private life and always preached a very positive message about salvation.

“She was just a great older sister,” Gambill said. He recalled the friendly but authoritative way in which she would bring issues to his attention.

Sanders and her husband, Raymond Sanders Sr., who preceded her in death, had six children, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.