Jerry Conley

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jerry Melvin Conley, 71, of Boise, Idaho, passed away Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, at his home, surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren. Jerry was a loving husband, father and grandfather, and a leader in wildlife conservation who inspired others to protect our wildlife and support hunting and fishing.

He was born Oct. 4, 1941, in Cape Girardeau, to William Melvin and Lucy Evelyn Riehn Conley. He spent much of his childhood fishing, hunting, and exploring in the surrounding Mississippi River Valley.

When he learned he could turn his interest into a career, he pursued it with the energy, passion and creativity that would mark the rest of his life. He was the first of his family to attend college, earning his bachelor and master degrees in fisheries biology and management at the University of Missouri.

During college he spent summers working in the white pine blister rust prevention program for the U.S. Forest Service in Pierce, Idaho. While in Pierce, he caught the eye of his future wife, Janet Kayler, by landing the largest cutthroat trout ever seen at the camp, and by having more freckles than any person she had ever met.

Janet was the love of his life, and they married shortly after in Cape Girardeau, eventually having a son, Mark, and daughter, Wendy. Janet and Jerry were married nearly 49 years.

Jerry's first job after graduate school was as a fisheries biologist and conservation officer in Ogden, Utah. He loved his work in the outdoors, often with Lady, the first in a long line of Labrador retrievers with whom he would spend many days hunting and fishing.

Jerry soon realized his other great talent was inspiring and motivating others with his vision for fish and wildlife management. He moved his family to Iowa to join its State Conservation Department, where he quickly rose to the position of superintendent of the Fisheries Division.

In Iowa he exhibited his creativity and penchant for public outreach. He convinced Des Moines radio station WHO to start a weekly radio show on fishing in Iowa, and a weekly fishing segment on Des Moines television news, both hosted by Jerry. Always eager for a new challenge, in 1977 Jerry moved to Kansas where at 35 he became the youngest director of a state Fish and Wildlife Department in the country.

In three short years he was able to make major transformations to the Kansas department, and in 1980 he jumped at the chance to return to Idaho, where he became director of the Fish and Game Department and could be nearer to Janet's parents in Lewiston.

Jerry's 16 years as director was the longest tenure in the history of the department, and he left a lasting mark on the state of Idaho. Soon after his appointment he was met with the tragedy of the murder of two conservation officers, and then a standoff with the Nez Perce Tribe over an emergency salmon fishing closure at Rapid River. Jerry kept a cool head and an accommodating demeanor, eventually working out an agreement with the tribe.

Jerry considered his greatest skill as director to be his ability to identify people's skills and put them in positions where they could excel. This ability, combined with his creativity and political skills, resulted in enduring benefits to the people and wildlife of Idaho. Citizens Against Poaching, the Nongame Income Tax Check off, Incredible Idaho on PBS Television, citizen volunteer programs, Wildlife Ambassador program, the Idaho Wildlife Congress, and the successful introduction of Wild Turkeys to Idaho were just a few of the initiatives he spearheaded as director.

Particularly close to his heart was educating the public, particularly children, about wildlife and the great outdoors. He co-hosted "Inside on the Outdoors" on KBOI Radio, and took great pride in the building of MK Nature Center in Boise, which he continued to visit regularly with his grandchildren until almost the day he died.

Jerry moved back to his native Missouri in 1996 to head its conservation department. This was a chance for Jerry to leave his mark on a great organization and to spend more time with his brother Dave's family and his mother in Missouri.

He promised Janet they would return to Idaho when he retired, and true to his word, they returned to Boise in 2002 where they could be closer to Wendy and husband Eric, and grandsons Ben and Sam. He and Janet traveled often during their retirement and were able to enjoy the birth of two more grandchildren, James and Elena, in Seattle.

Jerry continued to fish and hunt, and spent much of his time with his grandchildren, teaching them about the pleasures of exploring nature. He loved reading to them and delighted in introducing them to his favorite books, such as "Bobby Bluegill" (his favorite fish) and "Willy Whitetail".

He and Janet took trips with friends to Kenya and Tanzania, where they were able to see first-hand the African wildlife and people Jerry had read so much about. Naturally, while in Africa he attempted to fish in a local river, but when the locals warned of man-eating crocodiles, he agreed to keep his fishing rod stowed, possibly for the first time in his life!

Jerry stayed active in wildlife conservation, serving as a board member for Citizens Against Poaching and the Idaho Wildlife Federation, was active in the Wild Turkey Federation, and had time to edit and publish his father-in-law's book about the pioneer days along the Clearwater River.

Jerry leaves behind his wife Janet of Boise; son Mark and wife Ana of Seattle; daughter Wendy and husband Eric McFarland of Boise; four grandchildren, Ben and Sam McFarland, James and Elena Conley; a brother, the Rev. David Conley and wife Lisa of Cape Girardeau; niece and nephew Sarah and Adam; in-laws Bill and Susan Daley of Denver, Colo.; niece and nephew Alison and Ryan Daley; as well as aunts, uncles and cousins in Missouri, and hundreds of friends, acquaintances, and admirers.

Jerry requested donations in his memory be made to the MK Nature Center, 600 South Walnut, Boise, Idaho, 83712, in lieu of flowers.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Cathedral of the Rockies United Methodist Church, 717 N. 11th St., Boise. A reception will follow.

Announcement courtesy of Ford and Sons Funeral Home.