EWU interim dean of libraries killed in crash near Cheney

Charles Mutschler died at 63. He had lived in Cheney since 1969 and worked at EWU since 1981


The Easterner archives

Dr. Charles V. Mutschler

By Dylan Harris, News Editor

EWU lost a well-respected member of its community on Saturday, March 10.

Charles Mutschler, the interim dean of EWU Libraries and former university archivist, was killed in a crash on Highway 904, five miles east of Cheney at around 7:30 p.m.

Mutschler was driving westbound near Fifth Street when his truck crossed through the center turn lane and struck the rear of one vehicle, before crashing head on into a vehicle in the eastbound lane. One of the passengers in the second vehicle was taken to the hospital with injuries.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Though serving as the interim dean of EWU Libraries at the time of his death, Mutschler was better known on campus as an archivist and historian whose knowledge of the EWU and Cheney communities was unparalleled. Journalism professor Bill Stimson referred to Mutschler as “the definition of institutional knowledge.”

“People would worry if some of those (historical) documents were destroyed,” Stimson said. “Well it’s the same when a guy who knows the territory so well is all of the sudden lost like that. You’ve lost something that’s irreplaceable.”

Stimson knew Mutschler for over 25 years, working on projects and sharing information with one another. Stimson, who is also an author, said he received help and bits of knowledge from Mutschler countless times as he worked on books and other projects.

“Running into him in the library was like finding the best 10 books I wanted,” Stimson said. “I’d rather run into Charlie than find the 10 books I went over for.”

What started as mostly a professional, working relationship, evolved into much more between Stimson and Mutschler.

“A wonderful guy—warm, vivacious, amusing personality, always fun to talk to,” Stimson said. “I can hardly digest it because you know, you don’t ever appreciate the people around you until you lose somebody like that and then you realize that it gets to be a lonelier world.”

Mutschler impacted the lives of many during his time at EWU. Mutschler moved to Cheney in 1969 as a teenager. He began working part-time in the university archives in 1981 before being offered a full-time position in 1983.

Mutschler turned down a job working at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. after taking an internship with the National Archives and Records Seattle branch.

“I think had I not had a job to come back to there would have been no question,” Mutschler told The Easterner in 2017. “I would have gladly gone.”

His ties to Cheney and the EWU community proved too strong, however.

“I’m delighted,” Mutschler said in 2017. “I’m very satisfied staying here. I like what I do, I like the people I work with.”

One person who has worked closely with Mutschler over the past two years is Steven Bingo, EWU’s digital projects archivist. Bingo has taken over most of the university archivist duties since Mutschler’s move to interim dean of EWU Libraries.

“I think he thought of himself as a keeper of university history and he passed some bits of those along to me so that if needed, I at least can tell the crucial parts of that history,” Bingo said.

Mutschler’s wealth of knowledge and his experience will be difficult, if not impossible to replace, however.

“With the loss of Charlie, we’ve lost a vast amount of information about the history of this community and the history of the archives as well,” Bingo said. “We’ve lost a really caring member of the community. Anybody who has talked to Charlie will know him as a very gracious individual.”

Mutschler has been an invaluable resource for both the university and for The Easterner. Whether it was background research, a fact that needed verifying or information for the Looking Back section, The Easterner has referenced Mutschler or the historical information he compiled on almost a weekly basis.

“One of my first story assignments as a staff writer for The Easterner was on the history of the past 100 years of Cheney,” said Logan Stanley, the managing editor for The Easterner during the 2017-2018 school year. “The article was part of a special centennial edition of the newspaper. A few staff members told me to go to the archives in JFK Library, where I would find a man named Charles Mutschler. So off I went, not really knowing what awaited me.”

What Stanley found was what so many people before him had experienced after meeting Mutschler.

“One hour later I was done, and I walked away from that conversation with a far better understanding of the town I had just moved to and was living in,” Stanley said. “Charles had so much knowledge in his head, and was so clearly passionate about his job. To this day, it’s one of the longest interviews I’ve done as a journalist and it’s a memory that will never fade.”

The tragic death of such an impactful member of the EWU community will be felt for years to come. Lost with Mutschler is a vast amount of historical information and knowledge, but the real loss is the man himself.

“There is an irreplaceable absence that’s left by Charlie,” Bingo said. “We’ll find a way to continue this operation we call Eastern Washington University, but it’s never going to be the same.”