Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stennett’s death deemed a ‘great loss’

Community mourns senator, mentor, friend


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Former state Sen. Clint Stennett, right, died Oct. 14 after a long battle with brain cancer. He is survived by his wife, Michelle, left. Photo by Mountain Express

It's almost impossible to find a picture of former state Sen. Clint Stennett without a smile on his face.

"He always had the best smile," said Bruce Newcomb, former speaker of the Idaho House and close friend of Stennett. "It's a whole-face smile. It was who he was—who he still is."

Dan Gorham, who served as news editor of the Hailey-based Wood River Journal when Stennett was publisher, also remembers Stennett as a constant smiler.

"He was always in the moment, with a big grin and a large heart," Gorham said.

While Stennett is perhaps best known as District 25's state senator, friends say he threw himself into non-political interests as well.

"Clint was passionate about everything he did, whether it was publishing or politics, hunting pheasants down south, or mountain biking up Fisher Creek," Gorham said.

Stennett was a fly-fisherman, and Newcomb said he took pride in being an avid hiker and mountain biker. Pride went before a fall on one occasion, though, when Stennett and his then-future wife Michelle went inline skating together early in their relationship.

"He was trying to impress Michelle with his athletic ability," Newcomb said with a laugh.

The jury is still out as to whether or not she was impressed, as Stennett took a nasty fall and tore his ACL, which required a six-hour surgery to repair.

Stennett later married Michelle, who is his wife of 14 years and who stepped in to fill his Senate seat for the 2010 session. Newcomb said Stennett and Michelle were such a team that the substitution was a natural fit.

"The two of them have done so much together, you can't think of one without the other," he said.

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Newcomb said he has known Stennett ever since Stennett was a young boy, living in the Magic Valley with his mother and siblings. Though Stennett was born in Winona, Minn., he moved to Jerome with his family at a young age, helping to run his family's small dairy farm.

"[The Stennetts] all have a really strong work ethic and really high values," Newcomb said. "They are just good people."

District 25 Rep. Wendy Jaquet, a family friend and colleague, said that though Stennett might have been expected to follow the family business, his work on the farm may have helped push him into business and public service.

"It was during one of those many times moving irrigation pipe when he decided that there had to be more to life," Jaquet said.

The passion that Stennett poured into his legislative career also came out in his business life, Gorham said. Stennett graduated with a degree in journalism from Idaho State University, and was only 28 when he bought the Wood River Journal and became its publisher in 1984.

"Clint was right there in the trenches with us," Gorham said. "It was a really fun environment, lots of people, all young, all working hard, trying to put out the best paper they could."

Stennett owned the Journal until 1987, and Gorham said that he was a dedicated, enthusiastic and informed owner.

"He taught me a lot about the newspaper business, a lot about life," Gorham said. "He was a great guy."

Jaquet, too, said she learned a lot from Stennett as a legislator.

"To me, he was a really great mentor," she said. "I'm going to miss him a great deal."

Stennett was mourned this week not only by his family and colleagues, but also many residents of the Wood River Valley. He was active in the community, serving as a volunteer for the 4-H live animal auction at the Blaine County Fair. Stennett was also a volunteer with the Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped, near Hailey.

Stennett's passing even garnered a mention from Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall during a jam-packed Ketchum City Council meeting Monday.

"How do you thank somebody who devoted a significant part of their life to the community?" Hall asked. "When one feels pain like this, we all feel it."

"It's really a great loss for our community," said Len Harlig, former Blaine County commissioner, in an interview last week. "He had so much to offer and he gave so much."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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