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Wyandotte Mayor Joe Peterson dies at age 65

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 5/18/2020 Meredith Spelbring, Detroit Free Press
a group of people sitting at a table: Wyandotte Public Schools Superintendent Catherine Cost (left) said Mayor Joe Peterson (right) "has given back to our school district more than I can even put into words." © Catherine Cost, handout Wyandotte Public Schools Superintendent Catherine Cost (left) said Mayor Joe Peterson (right) "has given back to our school district more than I can even put into words."

Catherine Cost recalls Wyandotte Mayor Joe Peterson as the man who bought a washer and dryer for homeless students to use and as the man who children would gather around to hear read. 

"I remember walking into a classroom and seeing him read to a group of students," said Cost, the superintendent of Wyandotte Public Schools. "That's not unusual, but with him the kids would all gather around his feet and come in close to him, just because they wanted to be near him. His presence was so magnanimous that they wanted to be near him. Everywhere he went, people wanted to say hello, people wanted to talk to him, just because of who he was."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Peterson was elected as mayor in 2009 and was serving his third term as the city's mayor. Before his time in politics, Peterson worked as a police officer with the Wyandotte Police for 27 years. © City of Wyandotte, handout Peterson was elected as mayor in 2009 and was serving his third term as the city's mayor. Before his time in politics, Peterson worked as a police officer with the Wyandotte Police for 27 years.

The City of Wyandotte announced Peterson's death Sunday. The cause of his death is currently unknown. Peterson posted to Facebook May 2 that he was hospitalized for health issues, but tested negative for COVID-19. 

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He was 65.

"The City of Wyandotte is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our mayor, Joe Peterson," Mayor Pro Tempore Robert DeSana said in a statement. "Mayor Peterson served the city in numerous capacities for many years and his love for Wyandotte was undeniable. Our sympathies and prayers go out to his wife Janice, his sons, his grandchildren, his extended family, his many friends, as well the residents who he loved serving."

Peterson was elected mayor in 2009 and was serving his third term. Peterson worked as a police officer with Wyandotte police for 27 years before his retirement in 2004. In 2005, he was elected to Wyandotte City Council and later was elected as mayor. 

In January, the police department and 27th District Court building was renamed to the Joseph R. Peterson Justice Building in his honor. 

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Peterson was deployed to Vietnam with the U.S. Army, where he was promoted to sergeant.

In his May 2 Facebook post, Peterson said his hospitalization was due to health issues caused by being exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. In a post two days later, he said he has been having "heart complications," but the staff at Henry Ford Wyandotte hospital  "got my heart back working better and got me out of there."

Debbie Dingell holding a glass of wine: Peterson (right) with Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. © Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, handout Peterson (right) with Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, called Peterson “a dedicated, compassionate, and effective leader who humbly strived for excellence without seeking praise or recognition for any of his significant accomplishments."

"Joe spent his life working for others, always caring about everyone, watching out for fellow veterans and fighting for his beloved Wyandotte.," Dingell said in a statement. "He just was there, a warrior who lived and cared. And the world has lost another good man who made it a better place because he was here.”

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy called Peterson "my dear, dear friend."

"We became close decades ago when I was an assistant prosecutor and he was a police officer," Worthy said in a statement Sunday night. "We worked on the infamous Toni Cato Riggs case together and have been close ever since. We were reminiscing and sharing fond memories about those days a few months back. Years later we discovered that we had a mutual love of politics. He was a great family man, mayor and friend — one of the best human beings ever. He will be missed terribly.”

DeSana said further details will be announced at a later date. 

"It is just a sad day because he will be so greatly missed," Cost said. "He did so many positive things to move our city forward."

Meredith Spelbring is a news intern with the Detroit Free Press. Reach her at mspelbring@freepress.com or on Twitter @mere0415.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Wyandotte Mayor Joe Peterson dies at age 65

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