Wednesday, November 24, 2010

‘A huge grin and a firm handshake’

Valley celebrates life of late senator Clint Stennett

Express Staff Writer

Michelle Stennett, wife of the late state Sen. Clint Stennett, shares a laugh with attendees at Clint’s memorial service at River Run Lodge on Friday. Michelle said she wanted the service to include “something to make people laugh,” such as the slide shows of old pictures. Photo by Willy Cook

More than 600 people in suits and ski sweaters gathered at River Run Lodge in Ketchum on Friday to laugh, cry and celebrate the life of late state Sen. Clint Stennett.

"This is the story of a life well lived," said business owner Rob Santa, a close friend of the longtime senator who officiated at the service.

In fact, stories made up the bulk of the service, as old friends and former colleagues gathered to share their favorite memories of Stennett. Stennett served in the state Legislature for nearly 20 years and also owned the now-defunct Wood River Journal, radio station KSKI and television station KSVT at various times in his career.

"He always had a smile," said Arlyn Bodily, superintendent of the Valley High School in Hazelton, Idaho. "I think he's tops ... he taught me he could care for everyone."

"Sometimes he'd remind me of a Labrador retriever," said Dan Gorham, former news editor of the Wood River Journal.

Like a dog that sees a squirrel and has to chase it, Gorham said, Stennett would get a goal in mind and not rest until he'd achieved it.

For example, former roommate and college friend Ed Garcia told a story of how Stennett once got startled by a dog that had been tied up on campus. Stennett jumped and dropped all of his things, Garcia said, but reclaimed his dignity by working to pass a bill through the Student Senate that banned the tying of dogs on campus.

Gorham said he remembered Stennett's determination mostly in regard to hunting.

"Michelle (Stennett) and I have had to drag him off a mountain before," he said, because Stennett didn't like to stop hunting until he had filled his bag limit.

In fact, Gorham said, it was only thanks to Stennett's determination that Gorham began working for the Wood River Journal, which Stennett published from 1984 to 1987. Gorham was working at a paper in Driggs, he said, when he met Stennett at a newspaper convention in Boise.

"We closed down the Red Lion Bar and talked newspapers until 8 in the morning," Gorham said.

Stennett offered him a job before the conference was over, but Gorham wasn't convinced he wanted to leave his job in Driggs. But Stennett was incredibly persuasive, Gorham said.

"He had this huge grin and a firm handshake," he said. "He didn't take 'no' for an answer. He just kept smiling and talking until you were convinced."

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Santa said love of the outdoors kept Stennett sane. Even though he hated the rain and reportedly never camped unless he had to, he was a "typical Western jock," Santa said, who once convinced the Legislature that canals were navigable waterways because he'd water-skied down them, pulled by a pickup truck.

Several times during the service, friends talked about Stennett's relationship with Michelle Stennett, Stennett's wife of 15 years and recently elected District 25 senator.

"Michelle made a heck of a difference in him," Bodily said.

Bruce Newcomb, former speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, remembers trying to convince Stennett to propose to Michelle.

"I said, 'Clint, you know you're getting long in the tooth,'" Newcomb said. "'You'd better marry her.'"

Stennett's response? He'd ask Michelle to marry him when Newcomb could perform the ceremony. Newcomb promptly drafted a bill that allowed legislators to perform marriage ceremonies. When the bill reached the House, Newcomb said, Stennett confronted him.

"He said, 'Bruce, this has gone far enough—you'd better stop,'" Newcomb said.

Newcomb agreed to stick the bill in a committee where it would languish, but only after Michelle told him Stennett had proposed.

In addition to the personal stories shared by friends, the service featured several slide shows of old pictures, several of which showed a very young Stennett with a motorcycle, horses or on skis.

Several photos got a laugh from attendees, including one that showed Stennett sporting the plaid pants and long hair that were the signature style of the 1970s. Memorabilia, such as the door from Stennett's office and a large green "Stennett for Senate" campaign sign, were on display, along with more personal effects, such as a pair of cowboy boots.

Overall, the picture painted of Stennett at the service was of a determined and passionate outdoorsman and legislator. Bodily and Newcomb agreed that Stennett was a man of great integrity who gained respect wherever he went.

"Clint's the kind of man who made you want to be a better person," Garcia said.

Newcomb agreed, adding, "Clint will always be my friend."

Katherine Wutz:

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