Born in Carey, Idaho December 16, 1917 to Joe and Ramona Cenarrusa, immigrants from the South Basque Country (Munitibar and Gernika respectively), and who became American naturalized citizens. They developed a substantial range sheep business which has continued for two generations.
Pete learned the Basque language at home prior to entering the 1st grade in Bellevue in 1924. He graduated grade and high school from the Territorial School of Bellevue, and the University of Idaho with a B.S. degree in agriculture. While in college, he was a member of the U of I varsity boxing team 1938-1940. U of I won the National Championship in 1940. He was also a recipient of the U of I President’s Medallion award for outstanding achievement in 2006.
Pete was a high school educator in Cambridge, Carey and Glenns Ferry. He taught math and science and coached football, basketball and boxing. He started the first agriculture classes in Cambridge and Carey schools. After the war, he taught Blaine County veterans of WWII institutional on-farm training from 1948 until 1950.
He enlisted in Naval aviation in 1942. He served as a Marine Corps Naval Aviation instructor 1943-1944 and a close air support pilot in the F4U Corsair fighter aircraft – carrier qualified – and SB2C-5E Helldiver (dive bomber) 1945-1946. After WWII, he flew in VMF 216 Marine Ready Reserve Squadron in F4U Corsair, F8F Bearcat, F9F-2 Phantom and F9F-6 Cougar Navy jet fighter planes. Pete retired as Major in 1963. Pete flew for 59 years without an accident and logged over 15,000 hours of flight time. He earned the Marine Jet Flying “OMIAS” card while training in jet bail-out practice (This was a 45-milimeter explosive charge from simulated aircraft seat, sending pilot vertically on a rail of some 50 feet, then let down slowly by aid of hydraulic pressure.)
Elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1950, Pete served 9 terms – three terms as Speaker. During this time, he was privileged to represent the State to witness a 30-kiloton nuclear blast at Yucca Flat, Nevada, called “Operation Q,” in 1955. He was appointed Secretary of State May 1, 1967 by Governor Don Samuelson following the untimely passing of Edson Deal, and he served out the four-year term. Elected to 4-year terms from 1970-1998, he was the longest serving elected official under the Capitol dome in the history of Idaho: 52 years. He served as Secretary of State longer than any presently-living State Secretary in the United States.
Pete was also responsible for getting President Harry Truman to dedicate the first “airport built in a day” in Carey in 1948.
Pete was a lifetime farmer, rancher, woolgrower and championed agriculture in all facets of government. He was inducted into five Halls of Fame: Agriculture, Athletic, Republican, Basque and Idaho. In 2001 he was awarded the honor of “Basque of the World” by the Sabino Arana Foundation in Bilbao, Basque Country (Euskadi) and was a member of the Catholic Church, Elks, Euzkaldunak and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
He was appointed to the first Human Rights Commission by Governor Cecil Andrus and was in the Honor Society of Agriculture (Gamma Sigma Delta) at U of I in 1978. He was listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the American West. He was the chairman of the first Idaho Legislative Council of 1963. Pete was also the president of the Idaho Flying Legislators in 1951. The State of Idaho’s largest Government building was named in his honor by Governor Phil Batt 1998.
Pete also served as Idaho Chairman to draft Gov. Ronald Reagan of California for President in 1968 and was State co-chairman of “Reagan for President” in 1980, and Chairman in 1984.
His wife, Freda Coates is also from a woolgrower family and after more than 60 years of marriage, carries on his legacy and continues to be an all-around champion, as a volunteer in politics and homemaker.
Pete and Freda had one son, Joe, who graduated from the University of Idaho in 1970. He was an outstanding popular businessman and aviator, tragically killed in an aircraft accident in 1997. They are proud great-grandparents to Joey Cenarrusa, who was a student in the Basque Ikastola (preschool) in Boise.
Freda was born in Rupert, Idaho on February 5, 1928 to Charles “Chuck” and Omagaye Walker Coates.
She lived by Fish Creek, about five miles from Carey, Idaho and about two miles off the main road in a three room house. There were lambing sheds there as her father was involved in the sheep industry and mother managed the home with four children. She remembered traveling mostly by sleigh or by horse until they got their first car.
When she was 12, her family moved further up Fish Creek from town…above the dam…above the Bennett Place.
When she was 14, her parents bought the Briggs Hotel and it then became the Coates Hotel. It was next door to the post office. They received business from the few travelers who passed through Carey on the way to Arco or Idaho Falls in southern Idaho. It was the only place to stop between Shoshone and Idaho Falls along that route. Her mother, Oma, would cook breakfast. Perhaps hers was one of the first bed and breakfast establishments! She also provided a wonderful “home away from home” for many non-Basque, itinerant sheepherders who stayed there during the winter months for lambing.
Freda had a pick-up by the age of 14 and was driving everywhere and was the only one of her friends with wheels. Many of her fond memories with her classmates hail from times spent heading to the Wood River or up Fish Creek to swim or have a picnic on the weekends. Freda graduated in 1946 from Carey High School.
With a goal to be a flight attendant, Freda knew that she had to have two years of post-secondary education. The principal suggested she enroll at the Albion Normal School and although they focused mostly on teacher training, they allowed her to take general classes. After her first semester there, she took flying lessons and learned to fly from Pete Cenarrusa, her instructor, who was born in Carey but who raised in Bellevue, Idaho.
Freda Coates married Pete T. Cenarrusa in 1947. A son, Joe, joined their family on August 26, 1948. They owned and operated a successful sheep business from 1954 to 2000 and were pioneers in the process of transporting sheep from Idaho to California during the winter months for lambing season.
Pete was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1950 and would travel to Boise for the legislature while Freda stayed in Carey at the ranch and cooked for the lambing crew from 1950 to 1953 and cared for their son. Beginning in 1959, Freda began coming to Boise with Pete and her son, Joe, during the legislature. Joe was enrolled at Garfield Elementary School in the fifth grade. Pete was a legislator for 17 years and was then appointed Secretary of State in 1967. He served in that position until 2003, retiring at the age of 85. The family moved permanently to Boise in 1967.
Pete and Freda continued their business, Cenarrusa-Somsen Livestock, which was later incorporated by their son, Joe, under the name of Biskay Land and Livestock, Inc. By then they were established with a home in Boise and flew back and forth in various small planes they owned over the years to tend to their sheep business.
In 1971, Freda traveled with Pete to the Basque Country where they met with Basque Government officials in exile in Donibane Lohitzun. This would be the first of many trips that Freda made to the Basque Country with Pete for various official visits. Two other memorable trips were when she and Pete visited the Basque Country following the death of the dictator, Francisco Franco, and in 2000 when Pete was honored as the “Basque of the World” with an award.
Freda has been involved with the Republican Party and served for nearly seventy years in various activities. She was the President of the Blaine County Women’s Republican Club in the 1950s, served as the Secretary of the Idaho State Republican Party in the 1960s, worked on the Batt for Governor Campaign in 1993-94, and served as a precinct committee woman for District 18 off and on until 2020.
Pete and Freda continued their philanthropic endeavors, donating generously to various causes including:
University of Idaho – establishing an endowment for paid internships for the Basque Museum & Cultural Center in 2000. Each summer 1-3 interns spend 8-10 weeks helping on various projects related to the Museum’s wide range of activities.
Ikastolas – Boise’s and in the Basque Country – supporting efforts of teaching the Basque language to children. This has been an on-going interest for the Cenarrusas.
2003 – They assisted with start-up funds to get the Boise State University Basque Studies Program up and running. The Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture was also established that year and promotes the culture and history of the Basques through various means.
In 2013, Pete and Freda were awarded the “Friend of the Foundation Award” from the Idaho Community Foundation for the “Fund for Joe’s Kids” that was established in 1998 in honor of their son, Joe Cenarrusa, who died in a plane accident on September 9, 1997. Proceeds from the endowed fund help disadvantaged children in the Ada County area.
Idaho Future Farmers of America. Freda donated the proceeds from the sale of their home in Carey, Idaho to the Idaho Future Farmers of America, which had been Pete’s desire. The Idaho Future Farmers of America invested the funds with the Idaho Community Foundation and the proceeds from the investments are used for projects as their Board advises to advance the knowledge of the young members. Freda especially appreciates meeting the young members at the annual “Cenarrusa Day on the Hill” event and luncheon in Boise, Idaho.
Pete died on September 29, 2013. Freda continues an active life and is fortunate to have family near-by including a daughter-in-law, Jean Cenarrusa-Jacobson (Greg), grandsons Andrew (and wife, Jill) and Tyler (and wife, Lyndsy) and great grandsons – Joey, Kepa and Maverick, and Coates’ family members who keep in close touch with her.