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Remembering the legacy of Joel Peterson

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Founder of Manuelito Children’s Home

WildThing Championship Bull Riding is set to begin July 12. The staple summer event could be a somewhat somber time for family members and colleagues of Joel Peterson, who passed away last fall.

“It’s been rough on us, losing him,” WildThing organizer Larry Peterson said June 25.

Manuelito Children’s Home holds one of its most important and biggest fundraisers of the year serving concessions and offering parking for WildThing, according to both school staff and Larry Peterson.

“[WildThing] is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the children’s home,” Larry Peterson said. “He [Joel Peterson] always loved the fact we were. WildThing has a great economic impact for Gallup. But the more important thing is it helps the children’s home.”

The children’s home was Joel Peterson’s dream-and his legacy.

Joel Peterson was one of the founders of Manuelito Children’s Home, currently located west of Gallup at 12 Theta Dr. He served on its board for over 50 years.

Peterson, originally of Floresville, Tex., served in the military during World War II. He eventually worked as a teacher at Gallup High School and served as an elder for more than 40 years at the Gallup Church of Christ.



The home, built in 1959, is committed to making a difference, one child at a time, according to their website.

Jim Christian, administrator of Manuelito Children’s Home for the past 10 years, said it was working with the kids from the home at Gallup Martial Arts that drew him to the home.

Christian said he served on the home board before he became an employee 12 years ago. He said that he told the staff he wished he could help full-time, and the opportunity for him to do so soon followed.

An important part of working at the home is creating a comfortable atmosphere for the children, he said.

“The sign says, ‘home,’ and that’s what we want it to feel like for the kids,” Christian said.

Norman Atchison, who serves as public relations for the home, also emphasized that the goal is to make the living space feel more like a home than a dormitory.

“We want the houses to be like a home for the kids,” he said. “The houseparents take care of the kids, and try and help them as much as we can.”

Behind the home office, visitors can see three different houses used for living space. One of them is for boys, another is for girls, and the third is for relief, Atchison said.

Next to the houses is Gallup Christian School. Children at  Manuelito Children’s Home attend classes there, along with a number of children from town. The grounds also feature a gymnasium and playground for daily activities and an on-campus pantry, which accepts food donations, Atchison added.

In all, the home and school take up about 28 acres and currently accommodate about 20 youngsters, Atchison said. He added that the home aims to expand in the future.



“I wanted to come back and give back what was given to me and my family growing up,” Atchison said, when asked what drew him to work at the home.

Atchison said he grew up with Larry Peterson and his family, and came to respect Joel Peterson for all of his work.

“[Joel] cared about the kids,” he said. “He did everything he could to ensure kids had what they needed.”

Most of what is built and available at Manuelito Children’s Home and Gallup Christian School is due to the efforts of Joel Peterson, Atchison added. “He was a big, big part of what you see out here now The Peterson family are a big part of what’s out here.”

Atchison’s sentiments about Joel were shared by Christian, as well.

“[Joel] was one of those guys who, when he walked into a room, brightened the whole room,” Christian said. “He had an aura of positivity, and brought out the best in everyone around him.”

The present state of the children’s home is a testament to Joel Peterson’s legacy, Christian added.

“Even though he’s not with us anymore, [the home] is here because of what he did,” he said.

By Cody Begaye
Sun Correspondent