Curt Mueller: A life lived on his own terms

A celebration of his life will be held November 30th at the River Arts Center
Autumn Luedke

Curt Mueller had a philosophy: work hard, play hard. Mueller, the founder of Mueller Sports Medicine, lived that way of life until he died.

Oct. 19, 2019 might be the last day the sport care innovator lived in body, but his spirit – and legacy - lives on in the Prairie du Sac-based headquarters for the multi-million-dollar sports medicine business.


Born July 17, 1934 in Alma to Oliver and Dorathy Mueller, Curt moved with his family to the Sauk Prairie area where his father opened Mueller Drugs in Prairie du Sac. Curt graduated from Prairie du Sac High School in 1952, and went on to earn a degree in pharmacology from UW-Madison in 1957. While in college, he joined the Air Force ROTC program, later enlisting as 2nd Lieutenant at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, in the Army Medical Service Corps as a medic. During his college years he played varsity basketball for the UW Badgers, earning three letters and holding the rebound record for many years. He married Sally Stephan in 1957 and they had three children Jeff, Brett and Ginger.

After college, Curt was licensed to practice pharmacy in both Wisconsin and Illinois, and he took his first job at Walgreens in Chicago. He later returned to Wisconsin and became a business partner with his father at Mueller Drugs. By 1959 Curt started a new business selling athletic, first-aid products to high school, college and professional sports teams on the side. Two years later he founded and incorporated Mueller Chemical Company, later renaming it Mueller Sports Medicine.

Mueller Sports Medicine CEO Brett Mueller said his father achieved what nobody else had done at the time: brought locker room sports medicine into a retail setting. He was also one of the first in the industry to market internationally. Brett Mueller noted over the past 60 years, his father developed the family business into a global powerhouse in the sports medicine industry, with numerous inventions, patents and successful product lines such as the iconic Quench Gum. Brett Mueller said probably most significant was his father’s invention of the retail sports medicine category under the Sport Care brand, which has subsequently grown into a large retail category.
Presently, Mueller Sports Medicine conducts business in more than 100 countries worldwide, with a subsidiary in Yokohama, Japan, and warehouses in the Netherlands and China.

Although Mueller attained national and international success with his company, Prairie du Sac has always been his home. Brett Mueller said his father loved his community, and did what he could to help the people in it.

“He was still very kind to people and fair,” Brett Mueller said. “He was good at not saying things that didn’t need to be said. He helped a lot of people here. He loved this community, and supported it to the end.” That meant a variety of things, from volunteering his time serving as the president of the Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce, to patronizing businesses as far out as Leland and Blawkhawk.

“I don’t even know the full extent of what he did and who he helped in this community,” Brett Mueller said. “But I know he did it out of the goodness of his heart.”

Mueller Sports Medicine National Sporting Goods Sales Manager Rick Olson said most people don’t know the extent of Mueller’s philanthropy.

“Anytime a foundation needed something it seemed like it was always him and the Culvers who were always stepping up to the plate,” Olson said. “And nobody knows any of that stuff. And it wasn’t just one year, it was almost any time someone needed something in this community, he was there.”

“There’s a reason he built his company in Prairie du Sac,” said Andrea Wyttenbach Gavol, director of institutional sales for the company. “He could have built this anywhere. In fact, he probably would have been better off building on the west coast, because a lot of stuff comes from overseas. It would be easier just bringing (materials) into the port. But he took great pride in this community.”

Wyttenbach Gavol has been with the company for 23 years. It was Curt who hired her. But it took spending time in Green Bay at a different job in the field for her to truly realize why Mueller did the things he did: to set himself apart.

“In a world of empty suits, everyone in the sporting goods industry knows who Curt is,” Wyttenbach Gavol said. “He did the crazy stuff, he wore the crazy clothes – he did that on purpose. Not only because he liked to, but also because he knew it set him apart.”

An eccentric lifestyle

Most people have heard tales of the Mueller Sports Medicine founder’s unconventional ways; some true, some likely exaggerated. But it isn’t lore that Curt Mueller preferred to mow his grass sans clothing while on his riding mower. Nor is it only rumor that he enjoyed the bachelor lifestyle.

“He could be a wild man,” Brett Mueller said with a smile. “He definitely had a very eccentric side. Haven’t you heard the stories? He’d get out his tractor and mow the lawn – in the nude. When people would ask why, he’d simply say, ‘Because I was born in the nude.’ He did his own thing and didn’t care what anyone else thought, all the way to the end.”

Wyttenbach Gavol admitted her parents were worried when she first started working for Curt Mueller.

“They are from here; they heard all the stories about Curt and were petrified of me working here,” she said. “He’s a colorful personality; he is out-of-the-box. He didn’t care what people thought. And whether right or wrong, some of his personal decisions I maybe didn’t agree with, but I wouldn’t have worked here for 23 years … I would have done anything for him. Even my husband doesn’t understand that. But (Curt) would do anything for you.”

Brett Mueller said his father allegedly rode his horse around the upper Midwest visiting team dealers and other customers. “That’s what dad referred to as a ‘no business card call,’” he said. “He said he didn’t need to bring a business card because they would remember him.”

Following Curt Mueller’s passing, many people in the sports medicine industry emailed Brett, sharing tidbits of his father’s avant-garde business dealings and beloved recollections.

One industry insider touted Mueller as the “most flamboyant pharmacy major ever born.” A trade magazine editor, who had worked with Mueller several times throughout the years, referred to him as ‘the last true sporting goods industry Personality – with a capital P.’

Curt Mueller was inducted into the Sporting Goods Hall of Fame in 2002. According to many, his induction speech was ‘legendary.’

But for as wild and unexpected Mueller’s character was for the corporate world, Brett Mueller said his father was also “seriously business-minded,” and was able to “turn on the charm for business.”

Wyttenbach Gavol said her former boss was never one to shy away from a challenge.

“Mueller is a very successful, global company, and I think the fight is what Curt liked the best,” she said. “I have gone on sales calls with him where he lays out this whole presentation and he asks for $10,000 order. If they said yes, you could almost see the disappointment in his face. But if they said no, it was game on. He’d say, ‘You’re going to buy this.’ That would be his goal.”

Olson said they did everything they had to do to get the job done.

“Part of it was … we have been successful because of Curt Mueller,” Olson said. “He was a legend in this industry. He was so well known in our industry that it made our job easier when you said you were with Mueller Sports Medicine.”

Brett Mueller said his father tackled commitments with unbelievable gusto.

Wyttenbach Gavol said she’d never met someone with such incredible passion and drive. “It’s crazy - he would drive you nuts with the things he would ask you to do and challenge you,” she said.

But it was because of that unrelenting determination that got the company to where it is today.

“By all intents and purposes, Curt shouldn’t even have had a company,” Wyttenbach Gavol said. “The fight is what made him who he is. Any other person would have said, this is too hard. He couldn’t even get bank loans. He had to borrow money from people and promise to pay them back. And he did. But when the odds were stacked against him, that’s when it was go-time for Curt.”

Closing a chapter

The past few years had been difficult for the Mueller Sports Medicine team. The Mueller patriarch would stop in from time to time, open mail, read sales reports and send out notes.

“It’s just weird because, even toward the end, some of us were already mourning the loss of Curt, because he wasn’t even close … he was a shell of the man he used to be,” Wyttenbach Gavol said. “It was hard to see that spark still there but see other things about him diminish.”

Curt had lost his mobility and became very weak. He still had his wits about him, though.

“He had just passed his driver’s license test, which I can’t believe,” Brett Mueller said of his father. “He was pretty proud of that. He was born in 1934, and his new license was good through 2027.”

Curt Mueller worked very hard to make his company what it is today. And the people he’s left behind at the company are determined to carry on his legacy.
“The future of this company is as good as it has ever been, and I am not just saying that,” said Brett Mueller. “We’re fighting 3M and Johnson and Johnson, so some big guys out there. But we’re more nimble, and we’ve got good people and good products. And that’s how we carry on the passion and vision of my father. It’s like he’s still here.”

A celebration of life for Curt Mueller is planned Nov. 30 at the River Arts Center. A private service was held Oct. 25 for family and close friends. Tributes in Curt’s memory can be made to the University of Wisconsin Athletic Training Scholarship Fund,

Login Help

Thank you for visiting the new website. For your initial login, please use the following:

Username: Your current Star News username
Password: Please also use your username as your password

Once you successfully login, you can change your username. Thank you.