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Obituary: Ann Dwyer

Ann Dwyer of Healdsburg, who introduced several generations to the joys of paddling California?s rivers, died Tuesday at a Santa Rosa hospital after suffering a stroke.

She was 83.

She owned Dragonfly Designs, California Rivers and Kiwi Kayak Co., three Sonoma County businesses that catered to river runners. She also popularized the kiwi kayak, a cute, stubby craft that is easy for beginners to use.

?She pretty much revolutionized the kayaking industry,? said her daughter, Lenora Thoelecke of Windsor. ?She made kayaks much more stable and user-friendly.?

She also led paddling trips all over the U.S. and wrote several guidebooks.

A native of Corte Madera, she attended Marin County schools and earned a degree in recreational leadership from the University of Minnesota.

She returned to Marin and worked as a substitute teacher and swimming instructor. She also organized the Marin Canoe Club and led local paddling trips.

She moved to Sonoma County in 1977 and opened California Rivers in Geyserville, a business that made waterproof bags for river runners. The shop, which also carried canoes, kayaks and paddling gear, later moved to Windsor.

She taught paddling and led trips on the Russian River and other local streams. Her river-running classes, called ?Kayaking for Timid Souls,? emphasized safety and enjoyment of the outdoors.

On a trip to New Zealand in the 1970s she discovered kiwi kayaks and began importing them to the U.S.. The short, wide boats were less tippy than traditional kayaks.

?I wanted a boat that anyone could get in and paddle,? she said. She later manufactured them at a plastics factory in Healdsburg.

She was a tireless promoter of the colorful kayaks, paddling them on some world-class rivers, including the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

She sold Kiwi Kayak Co. and the brand is now made in Canada. Many other companies now make similar craft.

In addition to Lenora Thoelecke, who lives in Windsor, she is survived by her daughter, Louise Hollingsworth of Folsom, two sons, Dr. Lawrence Dwyer of Reno and Lowell Dwyer of Stinson Beach. Ten grandchildren also survive.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Rivers Bend Clubhouse, 1400 Pinon Drive, Healdsburg.

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