In memory of our beautiful friend Mia Peterson, a city bench will be placed in front of GiGi’s with a memorial plaque. We will host a dedication ceremony in the fall.
Mia Peterson, beloved daughter, sister, partner, aunt, niece, cousin, and friend -- and a person with Down syndrome who was a pioneer in the self-advocacy civil rights movement -- died on June 8 at age 47 from Alzheimer’s disease, at the home she shared with her parents in Des Moines, Iowa.
Mia was born November 24, 1973. She spent her childhood in Webster City, Iowa, with her parents Mike and Carol Peterson and sisters Missy and Jana, graduating from Webster City High School in 1993. Mia participated in school plays, cross country, speech club, and Special Olympics, and was voted Christmas Queen by her senior class. During high school and for a few years afterwards, Mia worked at Webster City Daycare and Hy-Vee Grocery Store.
In 1997 at age 24, Mia moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a job at Capabilities Unlimited. There she got her first apartment, started dating her longtime boyfriend Joseph Buchroeder, took classes at Xavier University, and carried the torch before the 2002 Olympic games. She also worked at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, Hamilton County Ohio Board of MRDD, and at the Williams YMCA.
Mia became nationally known for her role in self-advocacy civil rights, and started her business Aiming High to further that work. She was an in-demand public speaker, sometimes speaking to groups of more than 1,000 people. At the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference in 1997, she was the first person with Down syndrome to give a plenary address. Mia facilitated workshops, was a co-author of two academic research studies, served as writer and editor for several publications, and testified before Congress on the ten-year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2000.
Mia served on several boards and committees, including People First of Ohio and Iowa, GiGi’s Playhouse, Iowa Governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, Iowa Commission on Persons with Disabilities, and as the first person with Down syndrome on the Board of Directors for the National Down Syndrome Society.
In 2005 Mia moved to Des Moines to be closer to family. There she worked at Iowa Protection and Advocacy, Iowa Workforce Development, the Wellmark YMCA, and Ingersoll Price Chopper, and was a spokesperson for Look, Cook, and Eat digital cooking magazine.
Mia’s many “firsts” were accomplished without a map. Born two years before Congress passed Public Law 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children Act, in 1975, Mia and her parents found themselves blazing many new trails. Whether writing to high school administrators advocating for her right to take classes in integrated classrooms, moving across the country on her own, or being the first person with a disability on the board of a national organization, Mia pursued her dreams with persistence, courage, and grace.
Mia’s family and friends remember her most for her love, generosity, affection, sense of fun, and infectious enthusiasm. She was a friend to everyone -- from movie stars and politicians she met through her volunteer work to the hundreds of people who knew her by name from the YMCA and Price Chopper.
Mia enjoyed both performing and listening to music. She recorded a CD of her song I Am Here based on a poem she wrote, loved attending The Nadas concerts, and would enthusiastically hit any dance floor she came across. Mia was usually the first person to call loved ones to sing Happy Birthday. Even in her last days in hospice care, nothing put a bigger smile on her face than hearing music, especially the birthday song.
Mia loved spending time with her boyfriend, friends, and family. She and Joseph traveled together extensively and enjoyed going on cruises all over the world. She and her parents spent several winters together in Scottsdale, AZ, enjoying time with their friends at Villa Monterey. Mia warmly welcomed two brothers-in-law, her “bros,” into the family, serving as the officiant for Missy’s wedding and a reader in Jana’s wedding. She especially adored children and cherished being Auntie Mimi. Her loved ones feel a little lost without her; she was a bright light in our world and we treasure her memory.
Mia is survived by her parents Mike and Carol Peterson, sisters Missy (Glen) Keenan and Jana (Ian) Peterson-Besse, boyfriend of 20 years Joseph Buchroeder, nieces and nephews JoEllen and Jack Keenan and Aster and Miles Besse, and many aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.