Bethine Church was a true friend to wilderness

Bethine Church

From the Frank Church Insitute

The Wilderness Society is deeply saddened by the passing of our friend Bethine Church. Bethine served on The Wilderness Society governing council since 1993.

After decades of fighting for wilderness protections, Bethine Church passed away in December at her home in Boise at the age of 90. Often heralded as the matriarch of Idaho's Democratic party, Bethine was also well known as a passionate wilderness advocate. 

The widow of Idaho Senator Frank Church, Bethine was a close partner in much of her husband's work, including being at his side as he championed the landmark Wilderness Act of 1964 in the Senate. 

Up until her death, she continued to fight for protections of Idaho wildlands, including for the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, a campaign which The Wilderness Society fully supports.

In one of her last published op-eds, Bethine urged national monument status for the Boulder-White Cloud area. 

"As time passes and I think more and more about our majestic wilderness areas, I am convinced more than ever that Idahoans who know and love the Boulder-White Clouds need to get behind the effort to have the area designated a national monument," Bethine wrote in the Idaho Statesman in November

In 2009 Bethine Received The Wilderness Society's Robert Marshall award, our highest honor given to a person who has devoted long-term service to conservation, and who has had a notable influence in fostering an American land ethic.

“Bethine has worked tirelessly to protect the Sawtooth Mountains and other Idaho gems,” said former Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows at the award ceremony in Boise. “All of us who have had the privilege to work alongside Bethine know how much she brings to any initiative to protect our natural heritage for future generations.”

Just before her death, Bethine had recently retired as the president and founder of the Sawtooth Society. The society was formed to repair infrastructure and to protect the Sawtooth Valley and assure compatible development within central Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area. After retiring, Bethine served as an emeritus member of the board. She was also the co-chair of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Visions Management Seminar.

Photo: Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. 

Up until her death, Bethine served as chair of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University in Idaho. The institute now includes the Endowed Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs, which endows a professorship. The Institute also provides scholarships in Frank Church’s name.

Beyond wilderness work, Bethine was involved in a wide array of causes and issues. She was the honorary co-chair of the Idaho Ann Frank Human Rights Memorial. Formerly, she served as a member of the Governor's Task Force on Home Care, on the Idaho State Democratic Party Finance Committee. Bethine was also an emeritus member of the board of directors for the U.S. Capital Historical Society. She was also past director in the Boise Philharmonic Association and past president of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. Bethine was also a delegate to several national Democratic conventions. 

Her book “A Lifelong Affair: My Passion for People and Politics,” deals with all the years of her life and her family’s life in politics.

The Wilderness Society is grateful for all Bethine did for public lands conservation in her lifetime. She was an amazing woman and a true friend to wilderness. She will be missed greatly.