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Remembering Bethine Church

Photo of Bethine Church

Jean Bethine Church, widow of the late Idaho Senator Frank Church, died December 21, 2013, at her home in Boise. Bethine, known as the grande dame of the Idaho Democratic Party, was born February 19, 1923, to Chase and Jean Clark, who homesteaded on the Salmon River near Mackay, Idaho. Her father served as Governor of Idaho and later a Federal District Judge. Her family included Barzilla Clark, an uncle and Idaho Governor, and D. Worth Clark, a cousin who served in the U.S. Senate.

Bethine graduated from Boise High School, attended Boise Junior College, and received a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1945. She married Frank Church in 1947 and became his political partner during his 24 years in the U.S. Senate, where she was known as Idaho’s “third Senator,” because of her active partnership in the Senate. With the Senator, she trav- eled the world and campaigned with him for President in 1976. Her memoir, titled “A Lifelong Affair: My Passion for People and Politics,” describes her long and full life.

After the Senator’s death in 1984, Bethine returned to Idaho, where she remained active in political and public life. She was the founder and chair of The Frank Church Institute at Boise State University, where she received an honorary doctorate degree in 2009. She was also the founder and former president of the Sawtooth Society, established to protect the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. For her work, the overlook at Galena Summit was named “The Bethine and Frank Church Overlook.” She also mentored numerous Democratic candidates for local, state, and federal office. For her public service, the City of Boise named the “Bethine Church River Trail” along the Greenbelt.

Among many other organizations, Bethine served as a former trustee of the Boise State University Foundation; member of the governing council of The Wilderness Society; former honorary co-chair of the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial; former president of the Center for Responsive Politics; emeritus member of the board of directors of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society; and former member of the advisory committee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

In addition to her son Chase and his wife Pam of Boise, Bethine is survived by six grandchildren: Frank Forrester Church V, Seattle; Nina Church Adams, Portland; Andrew Church and Monica Church, Boise; Nathan and Jacob Luce, New York City; and three great-grandchildren. Also surviving is her daughter-in-law, Carolyn Buck-Luce, New York City, the widow of the Church’s older son, Reverend Forrest Church, who predeceased her.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs at The Frank Church Institute, Boise State University, 1910 University Dr., Boise, Idaho 83725; or The Sawtooth Society, P.O. Box 209, Stanley, Idaho 83278.

Bethine Church River Trail

A section of the City of Boise’s beloved Greenbelt has been named in honor of Bethine Church. The 1.6-mile section of pathway on the Boise River which extends from the Cottonwood Apartments off ParkCenter Boulevard to the new East ParkCenter Bridge on the south side of the river is located in a 24-acre natural area, which includes valuable riparian vegetation, wildlife nesting spots and several small irrigation canals that have been transformed into streams inhabited by fish. It is one of the riverside parks in the “Ribbon of Jewels” named for prominent local women.

The pathway remains unpaved to create a tranquil area for walking and running. Benches overlooking the river provide seating for rest and reflection in a beautiful setting. The thoughtful preservation of this section of the Greenbelt has proven to be critical for the protection of wildlife habitat; it is truly fitting that this pathway be named after Bethine Church in recognition of her important efforts to conserve and protect public lands.

This trail is another one for hot days, shady and cooled by the river. I saw chicory, blue flax, milkweed, golden currant, clover, oregon grape, hop clover, yellow salsify, hypericum(St. Johns Wort), woolly mullein, yarrow, creek dogwood, rumex (Western dock), bindweed, prickly lettuce, starwort, loosestrife, blackberry, cattail, artemesia ludoviciana. There were also swans and ducks to be seen.

-Phil Shambaugh

Visit the City of Boise Parks website for information on the Bethine Church River Trail.

Photo of swans on pond
Photo by Phil Shambaugh