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'A life dedicated to public service'

by JOSH McDONALD
Staff Writer | February 9, 2024 1:07 AM

Shoshone County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Allen said what many people throughout the Silver Valley have struggled to convey since it was announced the former Shoshone County sheriff passed away Wednesday morning. 

“Mike Gunderson lived a life dedicated to public service and helping those around him," Allen said.

Gunderson’s wife, Flo, announced his passing, which came following a battle with cancer, on his personal Facebook page.

Gunderson, 52, was a force of nature during his time as sheriff, often working 20-hour days. He was a self-described workaholic. 

From his early days in law enforcement in 1991 until his retirement in November 2022, Gunderson was dedicated to the people he served and fiercely protective of those he worked with. 

Following his retirement, Gunderson was replaced by Sheriff Holly Lindsey, who served as his undersheriff during his time in the office. 

Lindsey, a veteran of Shoshone County law enforcement, didn’t try to hide her emotions when she spoke of her predecessor.

“Sheriff Gunderson was a proud man who listened more than he spoke, which is something missing in our day and age, but is what made him a great leader,” Lindsey said. “Our team was driven to make him proud, similar to what we would do with our father. In fact, we didn’t call him sheriff behind the closed doors of the sheriff’s office — we called him Pappy. We named him Pappy because he took care of everyone. 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.” 

Being that kind of guy is what got him elected sheriff — twice. 

In 2016, following what became a polarizing election for the small Shoshone County community, Gunderson went out of his way to promote unity among those who did and did not support him during the election. 

“We need to work together. If we can do things together, we are going to be better,” Gunderson said after he was sworn in.

The position of sheriff, especially in smaller rural communities, comes with a lot of behind-the-scenes responsibilities — many of which can pull them away from the daily police work that they love. That wasn’t Mike Gunderson. He made sure he fulfilled the responsibilities of his office, but he also regularly went out and patrolled and responded to calls like he would ask any other deputy to do during a shift. 

This endeared him to his coworkers other members of the Shoshone County law enforcement community.

“Mike was a wealth of knowledge whom I turned to when needing advice and direction,” Osburn Police Chief Darell Braaten said. “Always willing to lend a hand and the hardest working officer/deputy that I had the pleasure of working with. I worked for and with Mike for the last 25 years and there was no other more dedicated law enforcement officer. He was a mentor, supervisor, coworker and friend whom I had the utmost respect for. Mike will be greatly missed throughout law enforcement and the community.”

Gunderson worked in several different areas of law enforcement during his career, including the sheriff’s office, Idaho Department of Lands and the Pinehurst Police Department. 

When a former deputy of his took over the position as chief of police in Pinehurst, instead of mourning the loss of an employee, Gunderson made sure newly minted Police Chief John Richter had as much support as he could provide. 

“I learned Mike’s love of the city of Pinehurst when I started working as the assigned deputy in January 2018,” Richter said. “Mike would stop in just to see how things were going and to chat with city workers and citizens. When he would help me out on a call, he wouldn’t take over. That’s a sign of a true leader. Trust your people. It is truly sad to have lost such an amazing, gifted and knowledgeable boss, law enforcement officer, mentor and friend.”

Gunderson left an indelible mark on a community where even county and local officials outside law enforcement sought his counsel and trusted his judgment. 

Allen, who worked closely with Gunderson in the prosecutor’s office, recognized the impact he had on his community throughout his career.

“During his time in elected office, his vision for what was needed to make this community a better place was unparalleled,” Allen said. “Gunderson’s advocacy for things such as restructuring the local Drug Task Force, increasing law enforcement presence within our schools, and even advancing a bond initiative for a new detention facility, are all examples of his forward-thinking views which contributed so greatly to the betterment of the Silver Valley during his career.” 

Gunderson treated everyone fairly, even when they disagreed with one another, which was a hallmark of his career in law enforcement and distinguished him as a cut above so many others in government. 

A memorial service for Gunderson is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at Kellogg High School.