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‘Leaders simply lead’

by JOSH McDONALD
Staff Writer | February 20, 2024 1:07 AM

KELLOGG — The people of Shoshone County celebrated the life of one of their own during a memorial ceremony for Sheriff Mike Gunderson.

Hundreds of people, including more than 100 fellow law enforcement officers filled Kellogg High School's gymnasium Saturday morning to remember and honor the beloved former sheriff. 

Gunderson died Feb. 7 following a battle with cancer. He was 52.

Paul Berger, a detective with the Idaho State Police, recalled Gunderson’s dry and sarcastic approach to most things, including his work, as well as the care and compassion that was just below the surface of that straight-faced exterior. 

Osburn Mayor Kip McGillivray read comments from Gunderson’s family members, but also spoke of the man who was more than just a cop. 

“Most people knew Mike as the sheriff. The stern-faced, always serious, tell 'em like it is law enforcement officer,” McGillivray said. “To me, Mike was different. He was a brother who was always there. He was a confidant to lend an ear and offer advice and he was ‘Uncle Mike’ to all my kids. His love and memory will be etched in each one of their minds, forever. But, of all things, what got me through all of this and continues to get me through, was Mike’s sense of humor. And today, that’s what’s important.” 

McGillivray told stories about Gunderson’s resolve through cancer, which included one-liners, sarcastic eye rolls and comments like, “I can’t deal with stupid people.” 

Hunter Gust graduated from Wallace High School in 2018, the same year as Gunderson’s daughter, Rylie. 

“Every time I interacted with Mike, he always had a way of making people feel important,” Gust said. “Given his background in law enforcement, he was knowledgeable about various topics and every conversation with him was an opportunity to learn something new. Mike was the type of person who would engage you in meaningful conversations and make you feel valued. He had a gentle voice and a great sense of humor and he always showed a genuine interest in how you were doing and what was happening in your life. It was evident that he was proud of the accomplishments of all of us who grew up with his daughters.”

The ceremony was broadcast online.

Jeff Lee was among those who couldn’t make it in person, but that didn’t stop him from taking time to celebrate his former boss.

Some may remember Lee from his time at the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office, where he and Gunderson made a formidable team, along with then-Undersheriff Holly Lindsey. 

When Lee moved back to his home state of Oregon, he stayed in contact with Gunderson, both to check up on him as well as give him updates on his new adventures as a law enforcement officer working on the coast. 

Gunderson’s loyalty and passion to his community and family were among the common themes of the memorial, but another common thread was how he was always available to anyone who needed him.

“I was honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to work for Sheriff Gunderson,” Lee said. “When he graciously promoted me into his command staff, he was always there for me when I needed him. He supported my growth and helped build me into a better leader. He showed me that you put your team before yourself and a leader will always be there for their team, no matter the time of day. Mike was always there.”  

Gunderson was a leader of people — not through commands, but by demonstrating how things should be done and, then, simply holding them to that expectation, Lee said.

He was never one to ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t do himself, which made people even more willing to follow. 

“He listened, he really cared, he was always there and he was a leader of leaders,” Lee said. “What he accomplished as the Shoshone County sheriff will be nearly impossible for anyone to outshine.”

It was never about the spotlight or the accolades, from which Gunderson shied away. 

For Mike Gunderson, it was about being there when needed, trusting his people, caring about his community and loving his friends and family. 

His son, Richard, summed up his father’s legacy in a statement that was read by McGillivray. 

“Leaders don’t talk about leading," Gunderson's son wrote. "Leaders simply lead."