Pete T. Cenarrusa was born in Carey, Idaho, on Dec. 16, 1917. He passed away at the age of 95 on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, in Boise after a three-year battle with cancer.
His parents were Joe Cenarrusa and Ramona Gardoqui, who immigrated to the United States from the Province of Bizkaia in the Basque Country of Spain. Pete’s father was from Munitibar and his mother from the Basque symbolic capital city of Gernika. Although the two cities were only eight miles apart, his parents did not meet until 1914 in Shoshone, Idaho, where they later were married. Pete’s mother’s sixth generational grandfather was Diego Gardoqui, who was the first Spanish ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Gardoqui was an ocean shipping magnate who furnished George Washington with munitions during the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. He also furnished a boatload of clothing for Washington’s army at Valley Forge during the freezing winter.
Joe Cenarrusa worked as both a sheepherder and sheep foreman for several years before purchasing his own sheep business along with range land north of Carey. He added a home in Bellevue, where this wonderful couple reared a family of five children. Pete was the second child born and the last to die as his younger brother and three sisters predeceased him. All five children learned the Basque language at home prior to entering primary school in Bellevue where they learned English. Pete’s love and promotion of the Basque language was lifelong.
Pete graduated from Bellevue High School in 1936 and from University of Idaho in 1940, with degrees in agriculture and animal husbandry. He was a national collegiate boxing champion at the university. After college, he was a high school teacher in Cambridge, Carey and Glenns Ferry, Idaho. Pete taught both agriculture and chemistry and served as the football coach.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942. As an officer in the V-5 Naval Aviation Corps, he received flight training in Seattle and Pasco, Wash., and subsequently Corpus Christi, Texas, where he received his basic and advanced training. In 1942, he received his Navy Wings of Gold and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Pete was an instructor in Naval Aviation in Corpus Christi (known as the University of the Air) for 18 months. He finally received his long-anticipated orders to go to the fleet. After completing the required aircraft carrier landings in an F4U fighter on the aircraft carrier Wolverine in Lake Michigan, he was ordered to El Toro Marine Base in Santa Ana, Calif., where he was attached to Marine Aircraft Fighter Squadron 462. That is where he learned that President Roosevelt had died, which he recorded in his flight logbook on April 12, 1945. He was then ordered to Cherry Point, N.C., to train in an SB2C-4 Helldiver dive bomber in preparation for the invasion of Japan. President Truman ordered the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, thus ending the war.
Pete himself saw an atomic bomb explosion in 1955, where he witnessed a 30-kiloton detonation of a bomb at Yucca Flats, Nev. He then went into the inactive reserve, where he flew with VMF 216 Squadron in Spokane, Wash., until his retirement in July 1963 with the rank of major. Pete followed as a private pilot who flew for 59 years without an accident. He logged over 15,000 hours of flight time, most of which were in the operation of his family business.
In 1946, Pete was hired to teach institutional on-farm training in Blaine County to veterans of the war who had subsequently gone into farming and livestock operations. In 1947, he married the love of his life, a sheepman’s daughter, Freda Coates. Their marriage produced a son, Joe Cenarrusa, a graduate of the University of Idaho in 1970 and a husband, father, successful Boise businessman and avid pilot. Joe and his wife, Jean, added two grandsons to the Cenarrusa family, Andrew and Tyler. Joe died in a tragic aircraft accident in 1997.
Pete and Freda owned and managed a successful sheep operation from 1954 until 2000, operating in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and California. In 2000, they left the sheep business when they sold their entire operation to Lava Lake Land and Livestock.
Pete was encouraged to enter politics in 1950 and was elected as a representative to the Idaho House of Representatives. He served nine terms, during three of which he was selected speaker of the House. On May 1, 1967, he was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Don Samuelson to fill the vacancy created when incumbent Secretary Edson Deal died. Pete was elected and served as secretary of state for almost 36 years. Upon his retirement he was the longest-serving state official in the history of the state of Idaho. His last election was in 1998, retiring on Jan. 6, 2003, at age 85. He was succeeded by his longtime chief deputy and current secretary of state, fellow Basque Ben Ysursa.
As secretary of state, Pete published the first edition of the “Idaho Government Blue Book,” which has been published every two years through to the present Secretary Ben Ysursa’s publications after Pete’s retirement. A quote from Secretary Ysursa in his dedication to Pete in an edition of the book reads, “Pete is the epitome of a true public servant, and is respected and admired by all Idahoans for his integrity and passionate devotion to making government more accessible and responsive to citizens’ needs.” At the time of his death, Pete was the longest-serving secretary of state in the history of the entire United States.
He was inducted into seven halls of fame: Agriculture, Athletic, Republican, Basque of the World, Idaho Hall of Fame, U of I Alumni Hall of Fame, and in 2010 awarded the illustrious recognition “Light of Bizkaia” Basque Country Hall of Fame by the government of Bizkaia. He was appointed to the first Idaho Human Rights Commission in 1971. He is listed in “Who’s Who in America” and “Who’s Who in the West.” Pete served as chairman of the first Idaho Legislative Council and as president of the Idaho Flying Legislators. The state’s largest government building was named after him in thanks by Gov. Phil Batt in 1998. Pete also volunteered for Republican Party service and was selected as the chairman of the Ronald Reagan Committee of Idaho in 1968 and again in 1984.
Pete is survived by his wife, Freda; his daughter-in-law, Jean Cenarrusa-Jacobson and her husband, Greg; two grandsons, Andrew and great-grandson, Joey, and Tyler and his wife, Lindsay, and new baby great-grandson, Kepa, all of Boise; and numerous nephews and nieces in Idaho, California and Washington. He was preceded in death by his parents, four siblings and his son, Joe.
The public are all invited to pay their respects from noon until 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, at Summers Funeral Homes, Boise, Chapel, 1205 W. Bannock St., Boise. Pete will lie in state from noon until 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the state Capitol. A vigil service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at St. John’s Cathedral. Funeral Mass will be celebrated by Rev. W. Thomas Faucher at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4, at St. John’s Cathedral with a luncheon to follow at the Euzkaldunak Boise Basque Center. Graveside services will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 5, at Bellevue Cemetery, Bellevue, Idaho.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be sent to The Fund for Joe’s Kids in care of the Idaho Community Foundation, to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise or to your favorite charity.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family on Pete’s memorial webpage at www.summersfuneral.com.