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Bethine Church dies at age 90

Bethine Church, Idaho Democratic icon and widow of the late Idaho Sen. Frank Church, died Saturday at age 90; this campaign photo shows Frank and Bethine Church in 1962. Her son, Chase, posted this announcement on Facebook:

My mother Jean Bethine Church 2-19-1923 to 12-21-2013 passed away at 6:15 PM tonight from old age. She had been on home hospice for the last two weeks. Myself and my wife Pam were by her side. She passed peacefully listening to Christmas music and looking at a Poinsettia and candle. She wasn't in any pain and she always wanted to pass at home and not at a hospital or care center.

Born Jean Bethine Clark in Mackay, Idaho in 1923, Bethine Church was the daughter of an Idaho governor and federal district judge, Chase Clark; the niece of Idaho Gov. Barzilla Clark; and the cousin of U.S. Sen. D. Worth Clark. A graduate of Boise High School, where she met Frank, she held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. The two were married at Robinson Bar Ranch, the Clark family ranch in the Sawtooth Mountains, in 1947. They had two children, Frank Forrester Church IV, a minister, theologian and author who died in 2009, and Chase Church.

Frank was an Idaho senator from 1957 to 1981 and a candidate for president in 1976, when he lost the Democratic nomination to Jimmy Carter. He chaired the Church Committee in the 1970s, which held ground-breaking hearings on CIA and FBI abuses in intelligence-gathering and covert operations; Bethine was his partner in all things, earning the nickname “Idaho's third senator.”

After Frank died of cancer in 1984, Bethine moved back to Boise in 1989, where she was active in local and national politics, was founder and chair of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University, and was founder and first president of the Sawtooth Society. She served on the governing board of the National Wilderness Society and helped establish the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise. The Idaho Statesman has a remembrance here; there’s more on Bethine at the Bethine Church Collection at Boise State University’s Albertson Library, including an array of historical photos. Click below for a report from the Associated Press. Bethine Church’s memoir, published in 2003, is entitled, “A Lifelong Affair: My Passion for People and Politics.”