Nov.24 – Ever since she was a little girl, Michaelann Perea has loved sending personal messages to friends and family.
“She was leaving little notes for people to have a good day at school all the time,” said her mother, Isabel Cavazos of Las Vegas, NM
This quality stayed with the Santa Fe community leader into adulthood.
“She believed in making things personal. That’s how you develop relationships,” said her husband, Israel Perea. “Every weekend she wrote and mailed personal letters to her clients, and those were handwritten letters. It wasn’t like an email.”
That personal touch and connection to other people motivated Michaelann Perea, 35, who died in an accident on September 7 while on a charity bike ride for Bike for the Light, an international organization bringing people without food and clean water.
Perea was known for being a cheerleader for humanity, bringing comfort to the disenfranchised, and never turning down a life of need.
Her smile, friends and family members said, was contagious.
As an active volunteer in the community, Perea inspired The Santa Fe New Mexican to create a posthumous award in her honor as part of the newspaper’s annual volunteer recognition program, 10 Who Made a Difference.
Perea has served as chair of the Santa Fe Community Services Committee, a board member for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, and an active member of the Rotary Club of Santa Fe. She was recently included in the inaugural class of 40 Under 40 Top Business Leaders by the Santa Fe Spanish Chamber of Commerce.
“I met her when she was 17 years old. She danced salsa in Las Vegas,” said Carlos Mora, a dance instructor in Santa Fe. “She came to one of my classes one day and we’ve been friends ever since. She became one of the top salsa dancers in this state, from Santa Fe to Albuquerque; she was well known even in San Francisco. She was super friendly and very generous with of her time. She had an amazing dedication to life.”
Mora was one of many people from the community who nominated Perea for the 10 Who Made a Difference program.
Mary Anne Stickler wrote in a nomination letter that Perea “was not only a rising star in the Santa Fe community, she was already a star to her family and friends, and she was always willing to inspire, educate, and roll up her sleeves, to get the job done.”
Perea’s mother said she was “always a happy child”.
As a teenager, she was full of energy. She was a cheerleader, cross-country runners and a bass player in a band. She helped her father, Chris Cavazos, at the local Boys & Girls Club, probably where she began learning to minister to others.
Israel Perea said the two were sweethearts in college. He went to New Mexico State University; She attended New Mexico Highlands University.
The pair had lean starts in Las Vegas. Michaelann went to school while her husband worked. They had their first two children in town, and after she earned her BA in social work, they moved into a two-bedroom casita in Santa Fe. There they welcomed their third child.
The Perea children are now 15, 14 and 10 years old.
The couple had problems at times, Israel Perea said. “By the grace of God we survived,” he added. “We went through some real adversity to get here. She’s been one of my biggest investments, so I’ve always made sure she can focus on what she’s doing.”
Isabel Cavazos said Michaelann Perea was buried next to her sister in Albuquerque. “I’m very proud of who she was and what she’s accomplished throughout her life,” her mother said. “Your spirit lives on and continues to help others.”
Chris Cavazos said his daughter got her strength from her relentless faith.
Her husband described this power as “one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. All the different communities and relationships we’ve built have turned into a bunch of different families. The basketball team, the cheerleading team, the piano recitals — there’s a feeling she’s impressed so many people with her amazing smile and put other people ahead of herself. She believed in that.
Michaelann Perea worked as a New Mexico area manager for First National 1870 and its Guardian Mortgage Division, but the job was never about money, her husband said. She always told him, ‘I want to make sure they have the right home and that I’m doing this for the right reasons,'” he said.
Despite her busy schedule and intense involvement with the couple’s church, Grove of Santa Fe Christian Church, she always made time for family.
“She was an amazing mother,” said Israel Perea. “When the boys had their cross-country run, she decorated their lockers and the bus. She was the biggest screamer in the stands.”
Away from the family, she was a founding member of the performance dance group Sana Rueda, where she taught salsa, and during the pandemic she made her classes available virtually.
“She never knew how to say ‘no,’ so I never said no to anyone throughout the process,” her husband said. “That’s how she lived her life. I used to tell my kids, ‘We’ll do it like Mom did.’ “