“Beautiful, beautiful boy,” the lyrics entered while seeking comfort for their son. Ty Peterson said the words in the tragic moments after the accident. The song played at the funeral culminating in a new name sign for Paul Peterson. While the music ended before Kelly Peterson could add in Paul’s name, she added the American Sign Language of “Beautiful, beautiful Paul,” before tapping her heart twice and lifting her hands to heaven.
Paul’s casket, too, spoke of the life he caringly spent supporting others, enjoying music, playing video games and loving his parents. He was “covered” with his mom’s slide whistle, a cow can, penny whistle, harp, small accordion, harmonica, two Build-a-Bears, hot tamales and gummy bears, Kelly said.
Paul, 18-years-old, was killed in a “freak” snowmobile accident on Feb. 29 while riding with family and friends from the Bear’s Den to Wahoo Valley. Out on the frozen river, family and friends were racing one another, with Kelly ahead as a speeder and Ty further behind until abruptly Paul’s ski got caught in branches from a tree frozen in the river. Prior to this, Paul and the entire crew had completed the frozen river loop once. Paul had ridden snowmobiles before but this was his first trail ride. As a driver, Paul did not speed or make rash decisions, Kelly said.
The snowmobile ride had been beautiful with clouds and some snow flurries, “it was like we were in a snow globe,” as Kelly said, and Paul was having a blast. One of their last pictures together shows Kelly smiling with Paul looking forward like any teenager as if to say, “Oh mother.”
“I just cherished every moment and I’m sure there’s a purpose in that but it just makes me sad,” Kelly said through tears.
Stories of Paul: Moving
In the months following Paul’s accident, Ty and Kelly have shared photos and stories of Paul’s life on Facebook. Ty said the stories are in a way “the best of Paul.”
The beginning of Paul, as Kelly said, was not a stress-free pregnancy with Ty as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and Kelly working until the day Paul was born. His energy showed in utero with a wave of his hand and the “little booger” arrived 13 days early, according to Kelly. Ty rushed home and the three quickly headed to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center for a Thanksgiving morning birth in 2001. And from there they moved from Virginia to California, Ohio and Minnesota.
Paul was Kelly’s “steady Eddy” as Ty was serving the country. When it came time for the move from Ohio to Minnesota in May 2016 while Ty built the structure for what would become the Acorn Hill Equine Assisted Activity or Therapies business, Paul and Kelly made the final haul with three rescue rabbits. The “three ring circus” of cages, a hay tub, bedding and three garbage cans for poop along with carrying the rabbits in and out of hotel rooms on the three-day journey is one of Kelly’s best memories with Paul.
“Paul really loved our rabbits too,” Kelly said.
He knew what to do when people were stressed, mad or upset, including telling his joke about a pirate entering a bar. “Of course I laughed because it’s what he does,” Kelly said. You could even find Paul’s kind nature in his letter jacket pockets as he carried around Neosporin, a kazoo and mints and gum for people’s coffee breath.
The younger years
Before attending Staples-Motley High School, Paul went to school in Beaver Creek, Ohio for first through eighth grade and attended kindergarten in Monterey, Calif. He learned how to ride a bike in their Ohio cul-de-sac and dreamed of becoming an astronaut, Kelly said. Paul made volcanoes in summer school science tracks, joined Cub Scouts and loved to play his trumpet, Ty said.
As a stay-at-home mom, Kelly was committed to finding the right doses, times and medicine for Paul’s ADHD. He was strong in academics, with his words beginning with astronauts, orbit and space shuttle. Paul enjoyed the lunar eclipse through the world of a telescope at 4-years-old, according to Ty’s Facebook post. One summer around age 4 or 5-years-old Paul headed to a summer camp presentation with a NASA astronaut and asked if female astronauts were infiltrating the mission. And the questions continued with lots of whys, too.
“He got in the habit of saying ‘Well, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west but I don’t know why’”, Kelly said with a laugh.
Paul and Ty’s night time routine continued through a free Build-a-Bear when Ty was deployed for Paul’s entire fifth grade year. The bear shared Ty’s voice and a blown kiss, “Goodnight buddy, I love you. Have a good sleep.” Paul carefully used the bear to save the audio. His other bear wore an Air Force uniform with little black shoes. Paul loved his dad, and even considered being an officer in the Air Force among other careers, according to Kelly.
The high school years
Paul was “such a bright spark,” as Kelly said, from his musical talents to academics and trap shooting, lettering in each throughout high school. And always with time for supporting classmates, playing video games and helping spread fertilizer or driving the tractor at their farm.
With drives into town or back home to the farm between Staples and Motley, Ty and Paul would share music with one another, according to Ty’s Facebook post. Both trumpet players, the two would find a song and discover it was one Ty had marched to in the band at the University of Minnesota, where Paul was to follow in his footsteps. At the Staples-Motley High School Ye Olde Madrigal Dinner, Paul eventually played a fanfare trumpet “as tall as he was,” according to Ty’s Facebook post.
“He was a gorgeous trumpet player like his dad,” Kelly said.
Science was not forgotten either, from Einstein and NASA socks to watching the total solar eclipse in Nebraska with the telescope that had shown him many views of the stars and the lunar eclipse 12 years earlier, according to Kelly and Ty.
Paul’s honor roll from grades sixth to eighth found their way into letters for 10th and 11th grade, and he would have finished 12th grade with another, according to Kelly and Ty. After maxing out the curriculum at the high school, he attended Central Lakes College on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Paul drove in his Nissan Rogue with googly-eyed air vents that sang with him during his car rides after paying his dues of a two and a half hour bus ride from their farm to high school previously.
“Remembering,” as Ty said in a Facebook post on March 27 about Paul’s trap shooting growth from 60-70 tries for one shot to an average of seven to 10 shots out of 25. And in September 2019, Paul hit 25 out of 25.
“I cried then, I was so proud of him. And I do now as I type this,” Ty said in his Facebook post.
Paul was a little boy all grown up ready for the University of Minnesota, as Kelly said.
“I was preparing for him to go to college and I was preparing for those things, not for this,” Kelly said.
The Peterson’s family farm, Acorn Hill Equine Assisted Activities or Therapies, has the mission “to strengthen, empower and enhance lives for people with special needs through Equine Assisted Activities or Therapies,” according to their website. The activities and therapies currently include barn therapy, therapeutic riding lessons and hippotherapy, each including time with a pony or horse in varying degrees. And before Paul’s accident, the team was set to pilot a mental health therapy program in March, according to Kelly.
In the mental health sessions, participants would start together for an hour before having an hour of free choice, including grooming a horse, playing the ukulele, going through a labyrinth or enjoying the meditation garden. Through a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International conference, Kelly learned the power in grooming a horse to help with symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.
As a way of continuing to share Paul’s love, according to the Go Fund Me page, the fundraiser will go towards a covered and heated arena to have the services, including grief counseling, available all-year round. And when the arena opens, a memorial wall for Paul will have his letter jacket, logos for CLC and Staples-Motley School District and a canvas picture of Paul’s eyes from Consolidated Telecommunications Company.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/welovepaul.