In a nation divided over race relations and immigration, there is a Treasure Valley man who deeply understands both issues. And yet, instead of debating the topics, he's taking an entirely different approach. It's one he hopes others can learn from.
When Pete Coulson steps on the court to referee a kids Y-ball game, his pockets are filled with lifesavers. He passes out the candy to parents in the stands and always gives the same message. “We're here to save lives and help children make wise choices. You can help the process or hurt it the choice is yours," Pete repeats. The lifesavers are part of Pete's mission to teach compassion and acceptance. Two traits, he learned from his own unique childhood.
Pete was born in Salzburg, Austria in the early 1950's, a post-war area when Nazism and segregation divided countries. “One of the biggest issues with mixed race kids was they were seen as the enemy," says Pete who is mixed race himself. Pete and his twin brother would never know their biological parents. Their mother left them at the hospital. The boys were sent to a Christian orphanage filled with other children who looked just like them. A white couple worked as the house parents for the orphanage. They bravely defied the racist views around them and treated the children as their own. “I think they what they were trying to build in our lives is character. They didn't let the color of our skin or culture affect us. But learn how to build relationships because to overcome those things you have to build relationships," says Pete.
What they built was a family. By 1964, Joe and Lee Coulson made it official, adopting the nine mixed-race children left in the orphanage and moving them to the United States. “They just felt it was their calling to help us start a new life," says Pete. That new life began when the Coulson's bought some property in tiny, Notus Idaho. It was not an easy life. The German-speaking children helped their parents run a large dairy. “I think by bringing us up on the farm it taught us self-discipline. It taught us how to work hard. It taught us perseverance," says Pete. Qualities that helped the Coulson kids succeed. As teenagers, the nine became U.S. citizens, graduated from high school, and Pete went on to college.
The long-time referee is following his parents lead, making sure every child he meets on the basketball court feels valued. Pete says he knows first-hand that's how you bridge racial and cultural divides. “All these controversies and all these discussions, I think the biggest thing is learning how to build healthy relationships. Because healthy relationships, there's going to be conflict, but you can see through that and see the best in the other person,” says Pete.