ITD board member Bruce Sweeney loses
courageous battle against bone cancer
Bruce Sweeney, a member of the Idaho Transportation Board since 1998 and a highly revered former Idaho legislator, passed away Tuesday at his home in Lewiston at the age of 77.
The past few years became an endurance challenge for an athlete who once was recognized as a world-class hurdler and a contender for the U.S. Olympic track team. Bruce was in the midst of a courageous battle against bone cancer when the love of his life, Marilyn, also was stricken by cancer. She passed away in January this year.
“On behalf of Bruce’s many friends and colleagues at ITD, I want to express our deepest sympathies to the Sweeney family,” said ITD Acting Director Scott Stokes. “His sincerity, devotion and love for Idaho never wavered.
“He earned the respect and admiration of all who knew him, and he will be greatly missed – from ITD to the state Legislature and the Lewiston community. In every sense of the word, Bruce was a true gentleman.”
Even late in life, with the terminal disease draining his energy, Sweeney remained steadfast in service to his community and his state. Last month he was honored by the Lewiston School District for his financial contribution to the school’s track facility.
When spectators take a seat at Lewiston’s Vollmer Bowl track and field complex, they will do so in comfort provided as a lasting legacy by the Sweeneys. Bruce recently donated $50,000 to the project that refurbished and expanded the terraced seating.
It’s ironic, though. Sweeney wasn’t very comfortable sitting – he was more accustomed to moving – on the track for Lewiston High School and the University of Idaho and in the cockpit of an Air Force fighter jet.
He brought that energy and drive, mixed with wisdom and compassion, to the Idaho Legislature in 1970 where he served two terms in the House and four terms in the Senate. Public service didn’t end when he retired from the Legislature, though. It continued through two six-year terms on the Idaho Transportation Board.
Bruce would have concluded his second term on the board next January.
Born in Helena, Mont., he moved to Lewiston his sophomore year in high school. Securing a spot on the track and field team required some persistent negotiation, something that would prove beneficial in a variety of public venues later in life.
‘When I moved to Lewiston in the spring of my sophomore year, I turned out for track. At the first meet, my name wasn’t on the list to compete,” he said, reminiscing about his early athletic career with a reporter for the Lewiston Tribune. “After convincing the coach I had been practicing, he let me enter the high jump, and I won it.”
Bruce became Idaho’s all-time track and field leader, and while at the UI, he claimed the university’s record in the 120-yard high hurdles and 220-yard low hurdles. He was a finalist at the 1956 U.S. Olympic trials at 400 meters.
After bidding farewell to competition, Bruce remained on the track … serving as an official race starter for more than three decades at Lewiston High School and for many years at the Idaho State High School track and field championships. He also was a volunteer coach for Lewiston High School.
It was natural that school administrators last month christened the renovated facility the “Bruce and Marilyn Sweeney Track and Field at Vollmer Bowl.”
Bruce also remained faithful to his college alma mater, serving on the University of Idaho Foundation Board. He also served on the Youth Endowment Board in Lewiston, on the Idaho High School Athletics Association and the Lewiston Parks and Recreation Commission.
Gov. Phil Batt appointed Bruce to the Idaho Transportation Board in 1998; Gov. Dirk Kempthorne extended the appointment for another six years in 2004. As the board delegate from central Idaho’s District 2, Bruce represented Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties.
In reality, Bruce would be the first to say he represented all of Idaho on the board, not just his five immediate counties. He worked tirelessly to improve transportation statewide and served as vice-chairman of the board in 2007 and again this year.
Away from public service, Sweeney was a successful businessman and avid pilot. He was a partner in Craftin Management Co., Craftwall of Oregon, and Sweeney Aviation Inc. Son Mark, also of Lewiston, is a member of the ITD Division of Aeronautics Advisory Board.
ITD will miss his wisdom, patience, persistence and congeniality.