Interview with Pickleballer Chuck Utzman

Pat Austin

Charles (Chuck) Darwin Utzman was born on Oct.1, 1929, by a country doctor in a farmhouse in Miles, TX.

As a youngster, he worked behind mules picking cotton and milking cows.

He attended a country school through the ninth grade. It was discovered that his actual birth was never filed so there was no birth certificate on record.

He wanted to join the Army, however, he was not old enough. He changed his birthdate to May 15, 1929, and not yet 16 years old, off he went to fight in World War Two.

Barely 17 years old, he went to Japan in January of 1947 and joined the 11th Airborne Division. Much to his surprise, he was jumping out of airplanes. He qualified for the GI Bill after his 16 months in the Army and went to school to become a CPA.

After a few courses, Chuck decided to reenlist in 1950 and headed to Korea, working with the Korean Partisans for Special Forces.

In 1971, he married the love of his life, Jan, and along with the marriage came a wife, two kids, a dog, and a house mortgage. Their dog, Mr. Specks, did not take a liking to Chuck. When Jan and Chuck were sent overseas, Mr. Specks went to stay with their daughter until they got settled. Mr. Specks arrived in Frankfort, Germany and when Chuck went to the airport to pick him up, Mr. Specks was so happy to see Chuck. He jumped up on him, gave him dog kisses, and they became best buddies after that.

Chuck’s military career is astounding. He was a Green Beret, a helicopter pilot, made a combat jump in Vietnam, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1974 after a career of 25 years.

After he retired, he got his elementary teaching certificate and taught fifth grade students science, gifted and talented. The principles of flight and the human body are just a few examples of what he taught. The love he had for his students was evident as he spoke.

Chuck’s mother, born in 1899, was one of 11 children. With the exception of one sibling, all of her siblings lived into their 90s, his mother lived to be 96 years old. The good gene pool lives on!

He speaks of his wife very kindly and says he has to live to be at least 93 years old, because he promised her they would be married for at least 50 years.

Chuck said as long as he knew his mother, to his knowledge, she only told one lie. She knew how much he wanted to join the Army when he was yet to be 16 years old, so she agreed to say his birthdate was May 15 instead of Oct. 1.

When Chuck spoke of his military career, he got a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes. He said the love, respect, compassion, and admiration the helicopter pilots and the troops had for each other is something he will always remember and will forever remain in his heart.

Chuck and Jan moved to Robson Ranch in 2005, and as a former racquetball player, he snubbed his nose at pickleball. After several years, he decided to see what the sport was all about. Every time he swung the paddle, he would miss hitting the ball, as the speed of the ball was a lot slower than the speed of a racquetball. However, he became hooked, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

When I asked him how he continues to play competitive pickleball at 90 years old, he said, and I quote, “Just keep on swinging.”

It was a pleasure and an honor to interview Mr. Chuck Utzman.