Local Obituaries

Obituary: Bomber pilot Clark Mitze, 96, led California Arts Council

Clark Mitze, a retired Air Force bomber pilot who was accomplished in a variety of performing-arts careers and led the California Arts Council, died Sept. 29 at 96, his family said.

Born in 1918 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Mr. Mitze aspired to teach and perform music before World War II. After graduating from Iowa State Teachers College, he served in the Army Air Force as a B-26 pilot instructor from 1941 to 1946.

Besides American aviators, he trained Free French forces and was awarded an honorary appointment as an officer in the French air force, his family said. He continued flying bombers after the war in the Air Force Reserve and retired in 1961 as a lieutenant colonel with more than 5,000 flying hours.

Meanwhile, he earned a master’s degree in music from University of Iowa and taught music while playing first oboe with the Sioux City Symphony. He went on to teach at Washington University in St. Louis and play with the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra in addition to reviewing music, theater and dance shows for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper.

“During the last few years there, he was flying bombers on weekend and teaching music during the week,” his son Tom said.

Mr. Mitze became well known as an arts critic and was chosen to head the Missouri state arts council. He went on to serve as head of federal-state relations at the National Endowment for the Arts before Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him executive director of the California Arts Council in 1976.

He left after two years, led the Illinois state arts council until 1981 and returned to Sacramento. He worked as a music and dance critic and commentator for Capital Public Radio and shared stories about his experiences with famous performers.

“He met a lot of movie stars – like Clint Eastwood, Rosalind Russell, Charlton Heston – and a lot of musicians and opera singers with the National Endowment” for the Arts, his son said.

In addition to the arts, Mr. Mitze earned celebrity in sports in a baseball stunt by colorful major-league owner Bill Veeck Jr. of the St. Louis Browns. In 1951, he was one of two contest winners chosen by Veeck to serve as team managers for a game against the Philadelphia Athletics.

Fans entering the ballpark were given cards printed with “yes” and “no” to vote on calls by the coaches who sat in Browns uniforms in the grandstand. Assisted by the team’s real manager, Zack Taylor, Mr. Mitze and his honorary co-manager led the Browns to a 5-3 victory, earning them official recognition as “the only undefeated major-league coaches,” Tom Mitze said.

Clark Mitze and his wife, Verla, recalled the game in a recent story by ESPN The Magazine published online at http://sacb.ee/1uT8:

“Oh my, it was fun,” he said. “Zack was very nice to us. We did pretty well.”

“Except,” Verla interjects, “for when we got Hank Arft thrown out.”

In addition to his wife of 72 years and his son Tom, Mr. Mitze is survived by a son, Bob; a sister, Mary Lou Burch; and a grandson. Another son, Terry, died earlier.

A private service is planned.