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Pete Cenarrusa Biography

Pete in his hatBorn 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. 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 was a member of the U of I varsity boxing team 1938-1940. U of I won the National Championship in 1940. Recipient of U of I President’s Medallion award for outstanding achievement, 2006.

High School educator – Cambridge, Carey and Glenns Ferry where he taught math and science and coached football, basketball and boxing. Started first agriculture classes in Cambridge and Carey schools. After the war taught Blaine County veterans of WWII institutional on-farm training - 1948-1950.

He enlisted in Naval aviation in 1942. Marine Corps Naval Aviation instructor 1943-1944. Close air support pilot in F4U Corsair fighter aircraft – carrier qualified – and SB2C-5E Helldiver (dive bomber) 1945-1946. After WWII, flew in VMF 216 Marine Ready Reserve Squadron in F4U Corsair, F8F Bearcat, F9F-2 Phantom and F9F-6 Cougar Navy jet fighter planes. Retired as Major 1963. Pete flew for 59 years without an accident and logged over 15,000 hours of flight time. Earned the Marine Jet Flying “OMIAS” card while training in jet bail-out practice.

Pete and Freda - Easter 2007(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. Appointed Secretary of State May 1, 1967 by Governor Don Samuelson following the untimely passing of Edson Deal and served out the four-year term. Elected to 4-year terms from 1970-1998. Longest serving elected official under the Capitol dome in the history of Idaho – 52 years. 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 has been a lifetime farmer, rancher, woolgrower and has championed agriculture in all facets of government. He ws 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 is a member of the Catholic Church, Elks, Euzkaldunak and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

Pete in DondizHe was appointed to first Human Rights Commission by Governor Cecil Andrus. Honor Society of Agriculture (Gamma Sigma Delta) U of I 1978. Listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the American West. 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” 1980 and Chairman in 1984.

Now retired and has been married to Freda Coates (also from a woolgrower family) for nearly 60 years who is an all-around champion, as a volunteer in politics and homemaker.

Pete turned 90 years of age in December 2007.

Pete and Freda in sheep wagonPete and Freda had one son, Joe, who graduated from the University of Idaho in 1970. An outstanding popular businessman and aviator, who was tragically killed in an aircraft accident in 1997. They are proud great-grandparents to Joey Cenarrusa, a student in the Basque Ikastola (preschool) in Boise.

More information about Pete Cenarrusa is available through the Basque Museum Oral Histories Project. To read the complete "Oral History" click here.

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