Jerry Melvin Conley
unknown - October 5, 2012
Jerry Melvin Conley, age 71, died October 5, 2012, at his home in Garden City, Idaho, 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. Born in Cape Girardeau, Mo., to William Melvin and Lucy 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 bachelorís and masterís degrees in Fisheries Biology and Management at the University of Missouri. During college, he spent his 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 Mo., eventually having a son, Mark, and daughter, Wendy. Janet and Jerry were married for nearly 49 years. Jerryís 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 their 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 Kan., 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 Kan. department, and in 1980 he jumped at the chance to return to Idaho, where he became the Director of the Fish and Game Department and could be nearer to Janetís parents in Lewiston. Jerryís 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 peopleís 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, ìInside on the Outdoorsî, on KBOI radio, and he took great pride in the building of the 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 Mo. in 1996 to head their Conservation Department. This was a chance for Jerry to leave his mark on a great organization and to spend more time with his brother Daveís family and his mother in Mo. 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, her 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. He 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 ìBobby Bluegillî (his favorite fish) and ìWilly Whitetailî. 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-lawís book about the pioneer days along the Clearwater River. Jerry leaves behind his wife, Janet; son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Ana; daughter, Wendy and her husband Eric McFarland; four grandchildren, Ben, Sam, James, and Elena; brother, Rev. David Conley and his wife Lisa of Cape Girardeau; niece and nephew, Sarah and Adam; in-laws Bill and Susan Daley of Denver, Colorado; and niece and nephew, Alison and Ryan; 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 at 600 South Walnut, Boise, Idaho 83712, in lieu of flowers. A memorial service will be held this Friday, October 12, at the Cathedral of the Rockies, 717 N. 11th St., Boise, Idaho 83702, at 1:30 p.m. A reception will follow. Arrangements are by Summers Funeral Home, Boise, Idaho, 208-343-6493.