Mayor Joe Peterson: A classic ‘Downriver guy’

Photo by Larry Caruso

Hank Minckiewicz

The truth is, I can’t remember when I first met Joe Peterson.

But the fact that in my other life I was a sports editor, it’s a safe bet that it was at an athletic event. Others knew Joe as a cop or a detective. Still others as a councilman or the Mayor, and while he was all that, of course, to me he was a coach.

Joe coached the Wyandotte American Legion Post 217 baseball team, he was active in youth hockey back during the old WRRHA days and he was an assistant for Mike Quint with the Roosevelt varsity team, winning that memorable state title back in 2011.

Joe loved his hockey. I think one of the things that bugged him the most about his ailments later in life is that those ailments took him off his skates.

Joe was a “Downriver Guy.” In areas away from here, that is not always a compliment. But those of us born and raised in these parts know that it is. A Downriver Guy is true to his roots. A Downriver Guy is not afraid of hard work and – most of all – a Downriver Guy is loyal to his friends.

That was Joe 100 percent.

Joe loved his adopted city of Wyandotte, but he was not a native. Joe was a River Rouge boy and while that community has fallen on hard times in recent decades, there is a group of people out there Joe’s age and slightly older, who fondly remember a better time and are proud to represent the “The Rouge.”

He, of course, wound up moving a little south to Wyandotte and he loved his adopted home, too. He loved the revitalized downtown, he loved the neighborhoods, he loved the local businesses and he loved the residents.

Joe loved to talk about his days growing up in River Rouge. He loved talking about the life he built for himself and his family in Wyandotte. His whole life was wrapped up in a few mile stretch up and down Jefferson Avenue. 

He remained true to his roots until the very end.

After growing up in River Rouge, Joe went into the service and was sent to Vietnam, where like thousands of other young Amnericans he was doused with the defoliant dubbed Agent Orange. It would lead to many, many ailments later in his life.

Upon return, he joined the Wyandotte Police Department, eventually working narcotics, which led to that long black beard and long hair that you see in some now-funny old-time photos of Joe.

But while we can grin at some of those photos today, Joe’s job was no laughing matter. He worked with and helped arrest some bad dudes.

When he became a councilman and later mayor, Joe remained a hands-on guy. Got a question? Got a problem? Talk to Joe, he’d get you an answer.

Right up to the end, you could find Joe on Facebook, warning residents about a pending power outage or helping someone cut some red tape with the city.

Joe liked being a cop and he loved being “Mayor Joe,” and he worked hard at those jobs.

And, as anyone who knew the Mayor can tell you, if you made a friend of Joe Peterson, you made a pal for life. Joe and I were not close friends. I never met his wife or family, but whenever he spotted me anywhere his face would light up, he’d call me over and there would be backslapping and handshaking and he introduced me around to the group of people he was holding court with.

He was friends with lots of people.

Well-known local photographer, Larrry Caruso, is another FOJ (Friend of Joe). His daughter Emily is a hockey fanatic. Years ago when she was still in junior high school, she fell in love with the Roosevelt hockey team.

I went to Joe, who was by then and assistant coach with the team, and asked him if there was anything he could do for her. Days later he came up with a game jersey to give to her and Emily wore that thing to every Roosevelt game all the way through high school. It was rare to attend a Wyandotte game at the Yack and not see her there decked out in Bear blue and gold.

I am sure that old jersey is still somewhere in Emily’s room.

You meet many people as you go through this journey called life. They affect you in different ways. 

There are those you just nod at and there are those that cause you to cringe when you see them. You know they are going to ask for something or complain about another thing.

Then there are those who bring joy. Those who lighten your heart. Those who make you smile.

With Joe Peterson gone, there are going to be a few less smiles in my life.

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