and retired businessman
Summoned from retirement and a modest 60-acre cattle ranch near McCall, Frank Bruneel finds himself in familiar territory as he becomes chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board.
He paused briefly from a full schedule of meetings with ITD staff and reminisced about his childhood. The second-floor windows at Headquarters offered a panorama of the Boise Foothills and busy State Street, which some six decades earlier Bruneel called home.
Now he’s back.
Bruneel, 71, grew up on Pierce Park Lane, about two miles west of the ITD Headquarters complex. He attended Pierce Park Elementary School and North Junior High, and graduated from Boise High (the city’s only high school) in 1953.
His appointment to the transportation board on June 8 also brings to the forefront a life-long relationship with transportation in Idaho and a highly successful career in the state legislature.
Just three years out of high school, Bruneel began working for Hill’s BF Goodrich tire store on Fairview Avenue in Boise. He converted that experience into the founding of Bruneel Tire Centers, a group of 12 stores based in Lewiston that serves communities in Idaho and Washington.
He relinquished day-to-day operation of the stores to son Craig as part of a phased retirement that began with his election to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1994.
Bruneel served from 1995 to 2003 and held committee positions on the House Transportation and Defense (all eight years), Revenue and Taxation, Human Resources and Judiciary and Rules.
Both experiences – operating a tire business and serving in the Legislature, combined with 35 years of piloting his own aircraft – give Bruneel an appreciation for the complexity of transportation in Idaho. They also prepared him well for his new position as chairman of the board that is responsible for transportation policies and ITD’s budget
When he accepted Gov. Risch’s request to serve as chair, Bruneel didn’t realize the task could consume most of his waking days.
“It’s a bigger job than I anticipated,” he said in a calm, quiet voice. “Although I’m excited and look forward to the challenges, it’s a little more than what I expected. I don’t think I fully grasped how big a canopy the transportation board has over these issues.”
Only two weeks into the position, Bruneel said his work easily could be full time, “or at least all the time a person could give it.”
“I have come to appreciate the knowledge and expertise of the staff. It would be a very difficult job without their expertise.”
Bruneel said he is still evaluating the department, its strengths, weaknesses and needs.
“That’s a work in progress for me,” he said.
Bruneel said he better understands the department’s funding challenges and the resources needed to ensure the system keeps up with the demands of Idaho’s growth.
His appointment could be relatively short-lived, though. He serves at the pleasure of the governor, and Gov. Risch serves only the remainder of Dirk Kempthorne’s term before he returns to lieutenant governor. A new governor will be elected in November and will assume office in January.
It is possible that Bruneel’s term on the transportation board will end when a new administration steps in.
But he hopes not.
“I would like to be part of the process for a considerable time. I realize that we’ll have a new chief executive in the Capitol Building in January. I want to serve as long as I can be a benefit here in the eyes of those who make the decisions… If (the next governor) allows me to continue, I’ll do my best.”
With successful business and political careers behind him, Bruneel could retreat to the solitude of his ranch and the beauty of Brundage Mountain’s ski slopes. He could pick and choose destinations for his Cessna 206 aircraft or plan regular reunions with his children and grandchildren.
But the father of eight vows to continue serving Idaho if and where he can for as long as he can.
“Nobody loves Idaho more than I do. I have traveled all over Idaho; I’ve done business all over Idaho; and, being a pilot, I’ve flown over most of Idaho. I have a vital interest in making it the best place I can.
“I’ve traveled the world… the only continent I haven’t visited is Australia ... and I have visited different cultures. I have found that we’ve got it all right here. I’ve never found a place I like better than Idaho.”