FORTVILLE — Since September of 1987, Tom Shaver has been unintentionally collecting yellow mechanical pencils.
As sharp as Mt. Vernon’s boys and girls swimming coach is, he would always forget to carry a writing utensil to his coaches meetings with June Mueller.
But Mueller – Shaver’s coaching colleague, fellow teacher, and most significantly, his dear friend – was always there for him with a yellow mechanical pencil. Shaver would forget to return the pencils, and so the one-sided barter eventually became a long-standing joke between the two.
“She was just genuinely a great person,” Shaver said. “She would’ve done absolutely anything for me, and likewise, I would’ve done anything she needed.”
Mueller, the matriarch of the Mt. Vernon Middle and High School swimming and diving programs, passed away at her home Friday at the age of 70 from a heart attack.
Friends, family and colleagues gathered Wednesday to celebrate Mueller’s life – which was defined by vitality, compassion for others and her love of all things Marauder swimming.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in Hancock County who would think of Mt. Vernon swimming and not think of June Mueller,” said Emily Logan, a former MV swimmer and coach who once referred to ‘Mue’ as her second parent.
When Shaver arrived at Mt. Vernon fresh off his career as a Ball State swimmer in 1987, Mueller had been operating the Mt. Vernon Middle and High School swimming and diving teams by herself since the early 80s.
Shaver volunteered to assist Mueller – who received her bachelor’s degree from Concord (West Virginia) University and a master’s degree from Ball State – and when the school created a paid assistant’s position a few years later, Mueller selected Shaver as her second-in-command. Their rapport was limited to coaching at first.
“She was brutally honest and she would tell you what she was thinking, and when you first meet people like that, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But the more you learned about that honesty, the deeper the friendship became,” Shaver recalled. “We laughed together and cried together.”
Mueller handed off the boys high school team to Shaver in 1992 – Mueller became Shaver’s assistant on the boys team, and Shaver was Mueller’s lieutenant with the girls – and their kinship took off, with Shaver trying his best to get the Mt. Gay, West Virginia native to crack up.
“She had an infectious laugh. If I could get her to laugh, it was the highlight of my day,” Shaver said. “I’ve got a dry sense of humor most don’t get, but in the event I could get her to laugh, it was awesome.”
Before Logan became a fellow coaching witness to one of Mueller’s “giggle fits,” she started competing on Mueller’s summer AAU program at age 10. Logan went on to swim for the Marauders, and after her collegiate swimming career ended, Mueller asked Logan to return to Fortville as her assistant on the girls team.
Logan accepted without hesitation.
“My reasoning for doing that was giving back to her,” said Logan, who was Mueller’s assistant for 14 years. “When I was there, there were around seven girls on the team. I know how much time she put in – she put in that much effort for seven girls, so we could put that much more effort in together.”
When Mueller retired as a teacher and relinquished head coaching duties of the girls squad prior to the 2008-09 season, she did so under one condition: that Logan would be promoted to head coach.
Logan became head coach. Her husband, Mark – the former head of the Warren Central swim program – and Mueller were her assistants.
“There was nothing better than coaching with your best friends,” Logan said, referring to Mark and Mueller.
Inheriting a talented group of swimmers and putting Mueller’s coaching lessons to good use proved to be a perfect storm in Logan’s first season, as the Mt. Vernon girls went on to claim their first-ever sectional championship. The Marauders went on to garner sectional titles in 2010 and 2012.
“When we won the first sectional title, that was giving back to her. The other two were just, wow, icing on the cake,” remembered Logan, who left MV to co-head the Greenfield-Central program with Mark in 2012. “She instilled that passion and drive in me to have a great balance between having fun and also to be serious about what we’re doing. Nothing thrilled me more to see her counting points and seeing that we could actually win it (in 2009).”
In 2012, Mueller retired from coaching, having presided over a program that’s grown into a local power, one that sends swimmers to the State Finals on a near-annual basis.
“June gave much of herself for the success and promotion of swimming in Mt. Vernon,” said Steve Maxwell, the veteran boys and girls swimming coach at New Palestine. “Her work with the middle school helped to create a foundation that is still paying dividends to the high school program.”
Shaver now heads both the Mt. Vernon boys and girls high school programs, and he’s forever grateful to Mueller for showing him the ropes of coaching.
“When I started, I was 22, pretty much a kid. I didn’t know how to interact with athletes as a coach,” said Shaver, a technology education instructor at MV. “She taught me a lot about how to interact with athletes. She established early on that the fact that she’s the one in charge of the program. The kids understand that, and then she can lighten up as things go on. I do the same thing, and I do the same thing in the classroom.”
For Logan – also a habitual borrower of Mueller’s yellow mechanical pencils – Mueller’s lessons are eternal.
“She was tough as nails on the outside but a teddy bear on the inside. The biggest thing is I never wanted to disappoint her,” Logan said. “We always laughed and said there’s no crying in swimming, that life is more important. Swimming is a sport, but at the end of the day, life is what’s important.”