Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The people of Shoshone County lost a friend’: Former sheriff Mike Gunderson dies after long cancer fight

Former Shoshone County Sheriff Mike Gunderson in 2022.  (Mike Gunderson for Sheriff campaign page)

To most people in Shoshone County, former Sheriff Mike Gunderson was more than law enforcement – he was a family man, a friend and someone who always took time out of his day to say hello.

Gunderson, 52, died in his home surrounded by loved ones Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, his family wrote on his Facebook page.

“Mike was a truly special person who had a never ending capacity for love. His love of the community was second only to his love of his family and friends,” said the post, which prompted an outpouring of support from the North Idaho community. Hundreds commented on the post expressing their fondness and appreciation for Gunderson, and sharing memories of him during his term as sheriff.

Gunderson was elected as Shoshone County Sheriff in 2016. He retired in December of 2022 for health reasons, completing a 32-year stint in law enforcement. Those who knew him had similar things to say – he always put his wife and children first, then the people of the county.

Stacy Dechand, who is close with Gunderson’s wife, described him as so caring and giving to others it was “almost to a fault” – but in the best way, she said.

Dechand’s family owns a towing company in Smelterville, Idaho. She recalled one day she was sent to recover a car in a fatal crash. When Dechand got there, she saw Gunderson, looking for the man who had been thrown from the Jeep.

“When we showed up, towards the end… you could tell he was so tired. He’d been out there a long time,” she said, adding that it was likely well past his time to go home. “But he was still out there. He was still looking.”

When a deputy couldn’t make it to a scene or the department was shorthanded, Gunderson would step in, Dechand said.

“Mike would always go out himself,” she said. “He’d patrol if he had to. He’d do it all. No job was too small for him.”

Shoshone County’s current sheriff, Holly Lindsey, wrote on Facebook Thursday that Gunderson was an extremely professional and competent leader with high standards that pushed his employees to grow.

“We named him Pappy because he took care of everyone,” the post said. “We knew that if we called him at 3 a.m., needing his help, he would drop everything and help us. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

One day, she wrote, she put her uniform on in the morning and began to cry. She called Gunderson and said she might not want to be in law enforcement anymore. But he gently calmed her down and offered her the best advice she’d ever received, she said.

“That talk honestly changed my life, and I will forever be in his debt,” Lindsey wrote.

Retired 911 dispatcher James Shields discovered Gunderson had died Wednesday from his family’s post on Facebook. It was something he could only describe as “devastating.”

When Gunderson was in high school, he snatched a gig at a local grocery store. Shields was his supervisor. Years later, in what was like a “full circle” moment, Gunderson became Shields’ supervisor. They would joke about that frequently, Shields said – Gunderson was so funny, but so serious at the same time. He had “that way” about him, Shields recalled.

“He was a people person, wasn’t afraid to talk to anybody. He would always say ‘Hi.’ He was the type of person that would give people the benefit of the doubt, but also uphold the law,” he said.

Shields said it was well-known that Gunderson was a role model, not only for his deputies, but also for a 6-year-old girl in town.

“She loved Mike. He would take time to go to her birthday parties. He’d even stop by the school to have lunch with her,” Shields said. “The law enforcement community lost a good leader. And the people of Shoshone County lost a friend.”

Gunderson’s memorial service will be held at Kellogg High School on Feb. 17th at 11 a.m., according to his family’s post on Facebook. They are requesting privacy from the public at this time.