August 6, 2007

Cokato's No. 1 fan recognized

The late Paul Christenson will be remembered Wed., Aug. 15

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

The Cokato Class of 1947 is remembering the late Paul Christenson with a large memorial plaque honoring the local high school sports enthusiast and well-known community member.

Christenson was born with Downs Syndrome, and therefore attended first grade in Cokato four years in a row before he was transferred to a school for the disabled.

The last of those four years was with the graduating class of ‘47.

“Everybody knew Paul. He was the most well-known person in our community,” said 1947 graduate Russ Johnson.

During his time in Cokato, Christenson was Cokato High School’s biggest sports fan, attending every home event and traveling to every away game with the team, according to the Cokato Historical Society.

In 1976, Christenson was honored with a DC letterman’s jacket, and on it was written, “No. 1 Sports Fan,” according to the April 2, 1980 Enterprise.

Christenson was moved to Willmar’s Presbyterian Family Foundation in 1980, where he lived until his death in 1990.

In the late 1960s, a law was passed to support the move of mentally disabled people from state institutions to smaller, more intimate, community homes.

Christenson influenced the Cokato community to accept such homes in the town, according to John Warner of the former Warner Care Homes in Cokato, now known as AME Community Homes.

Before trying Cokato, Warner had brought the idea of the homes to five other cities.

Warner believes Christenson’s positive presence in the community helped the community and therefore, the city council accept the idea.

The first home in Cokato was built in 1967, one of the first in Minnesota, according to Warner.

Although Christenson, at the time, was living with his parents in Cokato, Warner remembers taking him to a Twins game with the residents.

“He didn’t even know his influence on the community,” Johnson said.

Johnson only wishes that when he served on the school board, he would have given Christenson an honorary diploma while he was still alive.

The Paul Christenson Memorial plaque will be on display in the Centennial Room of the Cokato Public Library until a more permanent place is found, according to Johnson.

A preview showing will be at Cokato City Hall Wednesday, Aug. 15 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend and share their memories of Christenson.

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