Helen “Cookie” Mueller grew up on a farm in Manitowoc just eight miles from Lake Michigan. As one of 10 children growing up on a farm, the lake and boating was always something she viewed as incredible but unaffordable and unattainable for her.
Now, at 62 years old, Mueller races sailboats at least three times a week. She’s on the boards of the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center and the South Shore Yacht Club and also holds the title of being the first female commodore at the South Shore Yacht club.
“Sailing was always something that intrigued me, but it was never something I really thought I would have the chance to do,” Mueller said.
When Mueller was 32 years old a friend encouraged her to take sailing lessons at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center.
“It was the first time I was ever on a boat in my life,” she said. “I really became enthused with it. There was something about the combination of the wind, the water and the sail that captured me.”
She took as many lessons as she could and then joined a sailing crew at the South Shore Yacht Club. Mueller was a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School district for 32 years. She retired in 2004.
Mueller spent a lot of time as a teacher with disadvantaged students who never saw Lake Michigan even though they lived so close.
“They saw the lake as something that belonged to others, not to them. It reminded me of being on the farm, watching the lake from afar,” she said.
Mueller is heavily involved in the youth sailing programs in the community that work with physically and financially disadvantaged youth, she said.
“Our whole mission is to make Lake Michigan accessible to everyone because the lessons learned through sailing can help people grow as individuals as well,” Mueller said.
Mueller has certainly stayed busy post retirement. She and her husband, John Archibald, have their own boat, a Cal 43 known as TARDIS.
“It’s a ‘fun-busy’ though, it’s a sport I love. The Sailing Center was able to give me that opportunity so I could take it and run with it,” she said. “It has helped me develop those leadership skills needed to become a leader in the sailing community here in Milwaukee. It’s my turn to give back to them now.”