Former Ada County Commissioner and Boise City Council Member Vern Bisterfeldt died Friday. He was 84 and served in public service in the county across seven decades.
He started his career with the Boise Police Department in 1959, serving on the beat as the city grew from 45,000 residents to 1987, when more than 150,000 people called the City of Trees home. An extensive 2009 biography of Bisterfeldt on the Boise Guardian said he shot five people during his time as an officer, but he said “they were all armed, in the act of a felony and one ended in a big gunfight. I didn’t kill any of them, though.”
He traded his rank of captain for the elected title of commissioner in ’87, taking a seat on the Ada County Commissioner as a Republican.
His time in politics was colorful – including a memorable dig at a fellow commissioner in a heated argument who he called “buttbreath” and flack for leaving a gun in a briefcase in a Burley hotel room. (His quips on fellow elected officials went both ways. He used to call Boise city council member TJ Thomson a “silver-tongued devil.”)
In 1994, tragedy struck the Bisterfeldt family when his daughter with wife Shirley was murdered. The Bisterdelts raised their grandchildren and saw an outpouring of support from the community.
“The people of Boise were fantastic. We were absolutely overwhelmed with letters, prayers, and every kind of support you can imagine–even money,” Bisterfeldt told Boise Guardian editor Dave Frazier.
Back into politics
In 1999, Bisterfeldt stepped down from the Ada County Commission. He suffered from heart disease and stepped away from politics. The commission named the public safety building near Boise Towne Square Mall, with a plaque in his honor.
Bisterfeldt would go on to live another 23 years – and his time in politics was far from over.
The Boise City Council and former Mayor Dave Bieter moved to annex land in southwest Boise – including Bisterfeldt’s home. Bisterfeldt wasn’t in favor of the move according to the Guardian story, but it conferred on him the right to run for city council. So he did, and won, taking office in 2001.
He served on the dais at Boise City Hall for nearly a decade, until the call of the Ada County Commission prompted him to run for his old seat. He resigned in 2010 to head back to the courthouse, leaving an open seat that Bieter filled with Lauren McLean – who now serves as mayor.
Words of support
Many local organizations and politicians reacted to Bisterfeldt’s death.
“Vern was an extraordinary character because he had extraordinary character,” Boise Council President Elaine Clegg, who is the only sitting council member to serve with Bisterfeldt, said. “He was one of a kind and he will be greatly missed by those of us who were lucky enough to call him a friend and to serve on the Council and at the city with him.”
“Sometimes in this life, if you are very lucky, you find yourself intersecting with a group of people who make you work, make you think, make you laugh, and make you better,” former council president Maryanne Jordan wrote on Facebook. “And then, if you are even luckier, one of those people is Vern Bisterfeldt. A person who would lift everyone up, do anything to help anyone, make tough decisions, and always do what was right for his community. He lived here for years, but welcomed all comers. He never knew a stranger. He remembered everything, and could tell the best stories. We are all so much better for having known him. He was, quite simply, one of a kind. Our hearts are broken today. RIP my friend.”
The Boise Police Honor Guard will guard Bisterfeldt’s remains, the Boise Police Department wrote, and will “provide police escorts as needed.”