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Joyce Chenoweth Mutz, former curling champion and official, dies at age 89

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Updated: October 18, 2012 6:17AM

Joyce Chenoweth Mutz was not your typical grandmother.

On her 70th birthday, she went sky diving.

Well into her 80s, she traveled around the globe to go scuba diving — from the Bahamas and Fiji to the Great Barrier Reef and Indonesia.

She had another adventure off the coast of Borneo scheduled for this month. A recent fall down the stairs, however, derailed her plans and sent her to the Hallmark, a senior living facility on Chicago’s North Side, for physical therapy.

“She kept telling the doctors, ‘I’ve got to go to Borneo, I’ve got to go to Borneo,’” said one of her sons, Frank Mutz. “She had the plane tickets and everything.”

Before she could make her trip, Mrs. Mutz suffered a stroke and died on Aug. 31. She was 89.

“She was living full-force,” said her daughter, Sonnie Talley. “Her last conversation was, ‘When can I get back in the water and go scuba diving?’ ”

Mrs. Mutz also had been a fierce competitor in the sport of curling. She was the skip, or captain, of a state championship team, played in national tournaments and went on to become a certified official who oversaw games around the country and across the world.

In the late 1980s, Mrs. Mutz played in an Olympic qualifying event in St. Paul, Minn. (At that time, curling was an exposition sport in the Olympics.)

“When she marched out for those Olympic trials, her face was just incredibly proud and happy,” Talley said. “It was very exciting. They had bagpipers and all the pomp and circumstance.”

Mrs. Mutz ended up losing to the team that advanced on to the Games. She was 65 then, nearly 10 years older than the next oldest player and 20 years older than the average curler.

“How many people when they’re 65 try out for the Olympics?” said her other son, Greg Mutz. “She worked out like a fanatic. She would swim a mile just about every day.”

Mrs. Mutz and her husband started curling in the late ’60s with the North Shore Country Club in Glenview. It began as a social activity, but Mrs. Mutz loved competition. As a female, she did not have many opportunities in her youth to play sports so when she got the chance in her 40s to compete, she gave it her all, her children said.

“She threw 60 stones a day,” said her friend, Patti Peterson. “She was the only curler there that practiced. It showed in her ability and in her accuracy on the ice.”

Mrs. Mutz was born July 27, 1923, in Indiana. Her father built roads and bridges across Illinois and Indiana, and her family moved frequently during her childhood. She graduated from high school in Springfield at age 16 and attended Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.

She got married at 19 but her first husband, a pilot, was killed in a plane crash during World War II. In 1944, she met her second husband, Thomas Mutz, a decorated Marine pilot in the war.

“One of his best friends was killed so my dad had to accompany the body and he took a train across the country,” Greg Mutz said. “My mom gets on the train in Springfield. … By the end of the ride, there were sparks.”

They wed in 1945, and after Mr. Mutz returned from a second tour in the South Pacific, the couple settled in Indianapolis and raised three kids. Mrs. Mutz wrote two children’s books and was highly involved with her kids’ swim clubs.

“Even though I was 6 years old, I went to practice from six to eight in the morning and four to six in the afternoon, and we had swim meets all the time,” Frank Mutz said. “We were a go, go family.”

Once the kids had grown, Mrs. Mutz and her husband moved to the Chicago area in 1965. They lost their house in a fire in 1976 and ended up buying a condo in Wilmette, as well as a home in Lake Geneva, Wis.

Mrs. Mutz became a certified scuba diver in 1983. During the certification process, an eel sliced her instructor’s oxygen hose. Her teacher was OK but the incident spooked many of the students.

“One guy got out and said, ‘That’s it, I’m quitting,’ but my mother didn’t quit anything,” Talley said. “She soldiered on. That was her spirit.”

For the last 30 years, Mrs. Mutz and her extended family would take an annual scuba diving vacation around Christmas. As an underwater photographer, Mrs. Mutz snapped numerous photos of sea creatures.

Mrs. Mutz lived much of the time for the last 10 years on Sanibel Island in Florida. There she volunteered at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and at the Randell Research Center on Pine Island, where she participated in archeological digs.

Her husband, who owned a heating and air conditioning company, died in 1992.

He was “the love of her life,” Frank Mutz said. “She really missed him terribly for the last 20 years.”

Aside from her children, Mrs. Mutz is survived by eight grandchildren, six step-grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one step-great grandchild.

Services have been held.

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