In Memoriam–Marge Cline (AKA River Mom)


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In Memoriam – Marge Cline
By Randy Hetfield, President, Chicago Whitewater Association and Sigrid Pilgrim, Director, Illinois Paddling Council

The paddling world lost one of its most cherished icons when Marge Cline, widely known as RIVERMOM, passed away October 29.

Marge started paddling in the 1970s with the family. A near drowning a few years later on a whitewater river resulted in Marge needing to be resuscitated. She resolved to make sure that nobody would ever have to experience what she went through, embarking on a paddling education crusdae that lasted her entire life.

Marge brought the American Canoe Association’s (ACA) instruction program to the Midwest, certifying many paddlers in the skill of canoeing and kayaking and through them, providing education and instruction to thousands of others, greatly contributing to safety on the waterways.

Marge was one of only two dozen Instructor-Trainer-Educators in the US and served on ACA’s Safety, Education and Instruction Council board which established national policy on paddler education; thus, she not only taught paddling but also influenced how to teach paddling. Marge was also Chair of the ACA Midwest and regularly attended the association’s national board meetings in Springfield, VA where she greatly influenced the activities of ACA to the benefit of paddlesport.

Marge paddled many craft: solo whitewater kayak, tandem kayak, solo and tandem canoe; her passion also included “freestyle canoeing”, a sort of aquatic ballet in a boat, with named moves, choreographed to music. She was especially famous for her headstands surfing in the middle of some class II rapid (see picture).

For the Chicago Whitewater Association, Marge was the newsletter editor for 28.5 years, and exchanged the CWA GRADIENT with many dozen clubs for copies of theirs, over time assembling what surely is the largest paddling club newsletter library in the country.

Marge was also an accomplished film and video producer and was the winner of the 8mm film entry at the 1983 National Paddling Film Festival in the recreational scenic category with “Gallantin and Yellowstone River”. In addition to her own entries, she also was a great supporter of the NPFDF and for many years acted as a judge as well.

She was also an accomplished painter, often painting her favorite river scenes and giving away small painted paddles as presents. She also played the bassoon in a local community orchestra, and loved to cook.

But above all, Marge was a paddling educator and demanded precision. In her certification courses she often noted that she was not going to pass anyone who did not meet her expectations in demonstrating the theoretical knowledge and on-water skills, as it was her reputation that was on the line.

Poor health caused Marge to slow down in the last years, but she never quit. She bounced back from multiple heart attacks to continue paddling, often within a few weeks of being released from the hospital.

Marge’s husband Bob, also in poor health, joined her in death only nine days later; Marge often said that she cannot leave Bob alone. Marge lost son Michael, also an avid paddler some eight years earlier, and an infant daughter. She is survived by a daughter, two sons and sister.

The Chicago Whitewater Association has established a memorial tribute page on their website – Click here and anyone who has known Marge is encouraged to add their own pictures, stories, memories or tributes, or send them by email to

Staff Post
Paddlers writing about all things paddling.


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