Sal Celeski, who died last week at 87, has not really been a public figure in Idaho since the mid-80s, when he closed out a couple of decades or so as news director of KTVB-TV in Boise and host of the Viewpoints interview program.
Back then – a disclosure, I was an occasional panelist on Viewpoints – he was known as a sharp newsman (a fine interviewer), well connected, with unusual insight into the area’s business and political community.
In the years since, he has become a more significant if mostly unheralded Idaho figure, central in how many of its key people have kept informed and gotten along over the last couple of generations. He was unique in Idaho, and I don’t know how we’ll replace him, or that we will.
When he left KTVB, he founded a political and public relations company called Impact; nothing unusual in that. What was unusual was his first two major clients, announced at the same time: senior Senator James McClure, a Republican, and former (and about to be again) Governor Cecil Andrus, a Democrat. He advised the upper ranks of Idaho politics (and business, and notably the legal community) and not just one side of each: He talked to everybody. And often, he got them to talk to each other too.
He did a number of things over the years that gave force to his company’s name, such as the faxes (later emails) of Idaho news stories he’d send out daily to clients and many other people (another disclosure, I was one of them) that helped keep a lot of key sectors in Idaho up to speed.
But the social group he led may have had more effect still.
I don’t know when he launched what came to be called the “Moon’s group,” probably around the end of the 80s. It was named for the long-standing combination breakfast joint-coffee shop-fishing supply store on Bannock Street, had a designated large table in the back, and more or less retained the name even after the group had to move to other locations before being crunched by the pandemic.
I started attending somewhere in the early 90s, and even after moving from Boise I’d stop in whenever I could. I hated to miss it. The regular and irregular attendees were a roster of Idaho’s political, legal, governmental, media and business old hands, people like Mike Southcombe, Perry Swisher, Allyn Dingel, Jim Lynch, Karl Shurtliff, Charles McDevitt, Darrell Manning, Bill Roden, Mike Wetherell, Mike Johnson, David Frazier, Shirl Boyce, Vivian Kein, Jim Kerns, Ernie Hoidel, John Runft, and many more (apologies to the many others not named). Pardon the short-handing here: Describing the depth of their backgrounds in Idaho would take multiple columns.
The conversations were as lively as the personalities were strong, but I never saw a discussion turn into a shouting match or angry walkout, nor did the camaraderie ever curdle. The people overall had something to do with it, but the key was the man whose group this was – it could have been called the Celeski group, though Celeski would never have permitted it. With humor and sharp observation and a quiet, subtle authority, he kept the group from flying apart, and kept people together and talking.
I sometimes thought a book by Celeski about Idaho politics, government, law and business would have been a terrific read. I never proposed it to him solely because I knew what his answer would be: He liked to stay in the background. One of his last projects, on which I’ve been working as publisher (another disclosure there), owed a tremendous amount to his relentless years-long labor on it, but his name isn’t slated for the front page, for the same reason he wanted no obituary or funeral when he passed.
Sorry Sal: You’re getting this column anyway.
Consider this a call for someone to pick up where Celeski left off. We need someone and something pushing against the idea that anyone who thinks differently from me is the enemy and should be dismissed. We must be able to talk with other, not yell at each other.
Celeski knew that and lived by it. We need more people like him now, more than ever, who do.