Bethine Church, Lioness of Idaho Democratic Party, Dies at 90


Bethine and Frank Church
  • Bethine and Frank Church

Bethine Church, widow of U.S. Senator Frank Church and a political powerhouse in her own right, died Dec. 21.

A native of Mackay, Idaho, (Jean) Bethine Clark was born Feb. 19, 1923 into a politically engaged family. Her father, Chase Clark, was governor of Idaho from 1940-1942, mayor of Idaho Falls and a federal judge after being appointed to the bench by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her uncle Barzilla Clark served as Idaho governor; her cousin, D. Worth Clark, was both a U.S. representative and senator.

After moving to Boise in 1941, Bethine met Frank Church at Boise High School.

A graduate of the University of Michigan, she enrolled in the U.S. Army and stayed in touch with Church. They were engaged in 1946 and married in June 1947.

After practicing law in Boise, Idaho sent Frank Church to the U.S. Senate in 1956, where he was re-elected three times. He died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 59.

Bethine was the founder and chair of Boise State University's Frank Church Institute, founder of the Sawtooth Society, board member of the National Wilderness Society and de facto leader of the Idaho Democratic Party.

In February, prior to his being honored by the Frank Church Institute, Boise Weekly sat down to talk with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter to talk about his relationship with Bethine Church.

"When I first ran for mayor, I called her up to ask for a campaign contribution,"  Bieter recalled. "And she said, 'Let's just see how you do' Let's say that she was not immediately on the bandwagon. She wanted to listen to what I had to say, and then she became very supportive. If she was going to invest, she said she wanted someone to work very hard. And after that, she was a big supporter. I remember her telling me early on, 'You've got to keep smiling. Don't furrow your brow.' It's hugely good advice."

Bethine Church had spent the past few weeks at home on hospice care. Funeral arrangements and plans for a memorial service are pending.