Ashes to Action

Bethine Church's final, monumental wish


It turns out that the lioness of the Idaho Democratic Party had one roar left. In a final act of advocacy, weeks before she passed away a few days before last Christmas (BW, Citydesk, "Bethine Church," Dec. 22, 2013), the political powerhouse and widow of U.S. Sen. Frank Church said it was her dying wish to push for national monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds.

So it was with a touch of politics and poetry that Church's ashes were waved to the breeze July 17, in full view of the Sawtooth and Boulder-White Cloud mountains. Fourth District Court Judge Patricia Young, who helped carry her cousin Bethine's ashes to the Sawtooths, said only a national monument designation would "finish the job" that Church's husband (who died in 1984, four weeks after the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return Wilderness Act was signed into law) started more than 40 years ago. Young ended up marrying her husband, the late Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson (BW, Citizen, "Byron Johnson," May 2, 2012), in the Church's home several months after the senator's death.

"Bethine knew that national monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds would give these beautiful mountains the protection they've long deserved," Young said at the ceremony to scatter Bethine Church's ashes.

Democratic Party veteran Larry LaRocco, himself a former congressman and field coordinator for Sen. Church, said he hoped that what was a very personal memorial on July 17 would inspire a very public call to arms.

"Too many who profess to love the White Clouds are sitting on the fence or imagining downsides to a monument designation," said LaRocco.

But it's not as if the monument proposal doesn't have its detractors, including more than a few people who live in in the shadows of the Boulder-White Clouds.

"I would be hard-pressed to find 1 percent of Custer County that are in favor of this," said Custer County Commissioner Wayne Butts in a June 23 debate (BW, Citydesk, "A River of Debate," June 25, 2014). "I'm totally opposed. This whole thing became a jumbled-up mess."

Near the top of Bethine Church's passions was the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University, which has, for three decades, hosted national public policy forums. This October's conference will highlight the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Wilderness Act and focus on the Boulder-White Clouds debate.

"Over the coming weeks and months the family and friends of Bethine will be doing all we can to promote monument designation for the Boulder-White Clouds," said Garry Wenske, the institute's executive director.