Downriver mourns death of beloved mayor
Joe Peterson — known fondly as “Mayor Joe” to Wyandotte residents — died at home Sunday, May 17, of an apparent heart attack. He was 66.
He is survived by his wife Janice, sons Matthew and Joseph Jr. and three grandchildren.
City residents, business owners and politicians all over the region are mourning the loss of Mr. Peterson, who spent his life in service to others. Born in Detroit, he was a veteran of the Vietnam War, a Wyandotte police officer for 27 years, a coach for youth sports, a City Council member for four years and was first elected mayor in 2009. He was serving his third term. The mayor was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and suffered from its effects over the last 10 years.
As the city’s leader, Mr. Peterson was well known and available to residents at all hours by phone and online. Before he began to have serious health issues a few months ago, he supported and attended nearly every nonprofit event held in his city, as well as Wyandotte-sponsored events.
City resident Mark Gage posted on Facebook about Mr. Peterson, whom he called “the most charismatic mayor to ever occupy the chair in Wyandotte.”
“He was a people person who enjoyed getting out and mingling with the citizens,” Gage said. “Wyandotte as well as the world as a whole has lost a good man.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said she was deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Peterson, a close friend.
“Joe spent his life working for others, always caring about everyone, watching out for fellow veterans and fighting for his beloved Wyandotte,” Dingell said.
Riverview Mayor Andrew Swift also counted Mr. Peterson as a friend.
“Joe was not only a great mayor, he was a man of impeccable honor,” Swift said. “His dedication to the city of Wyandotte and its residents is something I try to emulate. I will miss him, as will everyone who knew him.”
Grosse Ile Township Supervisor Brian Loftus said: “Mayor Joe was a genuinely decent guy. I liked working with him and enjoyed his company. He will be sorely missed by all of us living Downriver.”
Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber of Commerce President Ron Hinrichs of Riverview called Mr. Peterson “one of our region’s great leaders,” and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters called him “a tireless champion for our veterans and Downriver communities.”
Wyandotte’s business community also mourns the loss of the mayor.
Patti Slack, chairwoman of the city’s Downtown Development Authority and owner of River’s Edge Gallery, said: “Joe Peterson will be missed by many for many reasons. I will miss him as a kind and generous personal friend, but also, having worked with him for many years on the DDA, I can say the small businesses in our town never had a better friend and advocate.”
Willow Tree co-owner Janelle Rose said the whole city is saddened by the loss of Mr. Peterson.
“Anyone that has been part of Wyandotte knows how involved he was in his city, the events, the projects, the people,” she said.
Jeremy Sladovnik, owner of Joe’s Hamburgers, posted this when he learned of the mayor’s death: “I lost one of my best friends today. Mr. Pete was like a father to me. He has supported me since I was a young kid. He always believed in me and knew how hard I tried to be the better me.”
Wyandotte Board of Education Trustee Theresa Crnkovich called Mr. Peterson “a champion and true public servant,” and nonprofit Mimi’s Mission founder Lisa Vilella of Wyandotte posted this when she learned of his death: “You have led with humility and kindness and it was not overlooked. We have been blessed to know you and call you our friend, and our lives will forever be enriched because of you.”
Melissa Ptak Moline of Wyandotte posted this after learning about the mayor’s death: “He was a source of strength and love to his family, friends, Wyandotte and the Downriver area. He lifted people up. He made you feel like your best self. He was generous, caring and had the biggest heart. My favorite part of him, the part I will miss the most, was how he made me laugh. I don’t know what we will do without him.”
City resident and activist Kenneth Bearden said he was heartbroken to learn of the mayor’s death.
“He was more than a mayor — he was my friend,” Bearden said. “I will always remember the two of us reducing each other to giggles as judges of a city baking contest. He helped me become involved in this city I love. He gave selflessly to this city, and especially to the kids of this city, supporting more events and fundraisers than I can recall.
“Bow your heads, kids. One of the greats is passing by.”