MISSION — They are a common sight on Monday nights, cleaning tables at the Mission West Hamburger Night. Josh and his mom, Bobbie, working hard but smiling and having a grand time. At the Monday night jams, Josh makes one Winter Texan very happy.
“Every Monday he makes somebody very happy because he pulls out the winning number for the 50/50 pot. Pulling out winning numbers for other prizes is a rewarding experience for him and the people here,” Bobbie Petesch said of her son. “Very seldom do we go out in a day where somebody doesn’t recognize him from the jam on Monday night. They’ll say, ‘I know you! You’re from Mission West.’ They don’t know me. They know him.”
To know Josh today, it would be hard to imagine him almost 31 years ago when Bobbie first came into his life. Bobbie was raised in Topeka, Kansas, on a farm, the oldest with two younger brothers.
During the school years she played basketball — “I was better than most boys my age” — and baseball, playing organized games in the late '70s and early '80s.
Starting her college years, determined to be a social studies teacher, she went until she ran out of money. Finding a job at Southwestern Bell, she discovered if she changed to a business-oriented major, they would pay for her college. She did, they did and two masters degrees later, she began her climb through the ranks of Southwestern Bell and AT&T.
However, it was after her return to college in her late 20s when her life became a bit more complicated. Not wishing marriage to complicate her career but still wanting a family, she happened to be home on vacation and happened to watch a talk show of a man who had adopted an older, hard to place child.
“I can do that!” said Bobbie. “At first my parents didn’t approve, but they came around. My mom has always said if I wanted to do something, I did it whether she approved of it or not.”
As a single person, it was hard to find an agency to help her on her path to motherhood. Finally, she found Adoption Resource Exchange of North America.
“They took kids that were not adoptable or that had not been adopted from all over the United States, even into Canada,” she said. “They would put them on a list and people like myself who were single and could not adopt within their state could consider these children.” (In Kansas, at that time, you had to be married to adopt.)
Having to go through the full process like any agencies, all the paperwork, all the home checks, she finally reached her dream. Jason came to her when he was 7 and a half.
“I actually was the first one in the state of Kansas to adopt a child that was not a relative,” said Bobbie. “When I arrived at Scranton, Pa., to pick him up, the social worker sat me down and said, ‘You do know he’s mentally challenged?’
“We’ll work it out,” she told the lady. “He was in my household a year and he just blossomed. He simply needed the right environment to stimulate him. He’d been in foster homes, passed around for a while.”
A few years later Bobbie decided Jason needed a brother, so they talked about it.
“Ok,” said Jason. And along came Rick, who was 10 when he arrived, a year younger than Jason.
Rick had come from an abusive home and the state had to take him away when he was about 8. It wasn’t easy and at one point Bobbie asked Rick to make a decision — “Either make a commitment to stay here with us or I’ll get you back to your other home.”
“He chose to stay and it worked out OK, but it was really hard for him,” she said. At 10, Rick was aware of the rejection from his birth family and it was difficult to understand.
After about five years, Bobbie decided to adopt one more child, after again sitting down with her two sons. Picking up Josh in Salina, Kansas, for the weekend — a test run — by the end the decision was made.
“Yea or Nay?” Bobbie asked her boys.
“Yea,” they both said and Josh had found a new home.
“When I picked him up he did not have glasses and he’s legally blind. They were not aware apparently that he could not hear in his right ear and is partially deaf in his left. He jabbered. Because he couldn’t hear, what he did hear was jabber so that’s how he talked. At 5 and a half, he was malnourished and looked like the starving children you see in magazines,” she said. “He really had a slow start because of all those things.”
So she went to work, determined that Josh would get a fair shake through his life, unaware when she picked him he would be a 24/7 commitment.
“He’s not somebody who could ever be able to live on his own,” she said of her developmentally delayed son. “He’s always going to have to have somebody helping him.”
But, does that mean a sad story for Josh? Oh, heaven’s no! Josh has the spirit of an angel and the courage of a tiger. He has taken his life and is living it to the fullest, thanks to his amazing mom.
First they had to teach Josh about meals at the Petesch house.
“The household where he lived only gave him a little portion and that was it. When he came to live with me, at first he started piling food on his plate. I told him ‘No, we’re not going to do that. You take a normal portion and if you finish that, then you can have seconds.’ He had never been allowed to do that at his other home. The first time he pushed himself back from the table and said he was full, I knew that was a great accomplishment because now he knew he didn’t have to worry about food again.”
“No matter what I have shown Josh, he’s always tried it. Now there’s a lot of things he hasn’t been able to do, but he’s always tried it,” Bobbie said. “He’s never said, ‘I’m not going to do that. I can’t do that.’ He’s always tried it.”
Take T-ball, for instance. Bobbie had been a basketball coach for her son’s teams — a first in Kansas — and was coaching the 6, 7 and 8 year olds in T-ball. Putting Josh out in right field, figuring no little kid would hit a ball out there, she asked the 1st and 2nd base and center fielder to go over to help him with the ball but let him throw it in.
“Well, I hit the ball out to Josh and everybody, including the catcher, went out there to help him!” she said, still getting emotional after all these years. “It was so neat to see those kids go to help.”
That team went on to win every game of their season, were invited to a prestigious tournament in Kansas for T-Ball and came in second place with Josh winning MVP!
Receiving a lot of help through the school system with his speech and hearing and his special ed classes, he was even mainstreamed into high school his last two years and graduated.
Bobbie discovered a natural gift of Josh’s — running. Finding a friend who would train with him and then run with him, he entered 5 and 10k runs and ran to win, winning some. He even was able to run by himself, with Bobbie cheering him on at the finish line.
After she retired first from AT&T and then her booming Pet Sitting and Poop Scooping business in 2000, she decided to hit the road RVing. Giving Josh the choice to stay with his job he had through developmental services in Lenexa, Kansas, his social environment, his Special Olympics or head out with mom, he chose Mom.
“He traveled all over the lower 48 and seven provinces of Canada and got a tremendous education out of the whole deal,” she said.
Finding the Valley through an aunt and uncle, she chose Mission West because of the larger sites and settled there when she found the family atmosphere so supportive to Josh.
“Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Bobbie, you’ve done such a great job with Josh.’ But I know it’s not me. If he did not want to be the person he is today, he would not be there. They told me he’d never read. He reads books. They told me at some point he would stop growing mentally. He hasn’t reached that point yet and he’s 37. He’s taken everything that people have helped him with and latched on to become a better person,” Josh’s mom said with pride gleaming in her eyes.
“He goes and does things in the park by himself and I feel comfortable letting him go because I know there are people here who watch over him and help him. The people in the park have allowed him to become himself and accept him for who he is.”
Today, Josh is somebody — touching hearts, winning friends, and simply … enjoying life.