In 1974, Mel Oakes expressed his boredom with jogging to a seven months pregnant neighbor, Donna Jobe. She quickly suggested that he consider tennis. Since he had never played, she loaned him a racquet and took him over to the courts at Zilker School and showed him a few strokes, fortunately avoiding a premature delivery. He was hooked. A Guatemalan graduate student in physics at The University of Texas, Carlos Cajas, offered to hit with him on Saturday mornings, which they did for several years while Carlos completed his dissertation. John Towery and Garry Cole, minister and member respectively of the Congregational Church of Austin, both mentioned that they played and maybe we could have a match sometime. Garry, a professor in the UT Botany Department, enlisted Tom Mabry, then chairman, to play with us. We played at 7:30 AM Tuesdays and Thursdays at the 51st Street UT Inter-mural Courts. Eventually Tom Mabry’s obligations were such that we needed to find a replacement. John recruited Rose Lancaster, founder of Extend-a-Care, and we both convinced Ben White (pediatrician), a member of John’s congregation, to join us. Ben died in 2011 and Rose in 2013.( See their eulogies & more at the end of this page.) We would recruit pickups such as Ches Towery, John’s son, David Bartholomew, seminarian student, Carlos Cajas, physics grad student, Rollin Russell (UCC Associate Conference Minister) and John Camden, (UT Data Processing Staff). During this time Mel also played in the Austin Tennis League with the Headbands, captained by John Murphy, a professor in UT Advertising Department.
In 1989 John had performed a wedding for Gordon Flack’s daughter and son-in-law Charles Thrash. Gordon, who was retiring from the Higher Education Coordinating Board, had mentioned to John that he played, so he joined us. A 1995 picture at right includes early players, L to R: Mel Oakes, John Towery, Garry Cole and Gordon Flack. This group, including Rose Lancaster, continued for a number of years, eventually shifting to Austin High when UT enforced the staff or student requirement for using their courts. On one occasion Rose scaled the 10 ft high wire fence when UT locked us out one morning.
The next major development was the departure in 1995 of Garry Cole to accept an offer from the Medical College of Ohio and a few other part time players also left. It was necessary to expand the group. Over the years George Ricker (University Methodist Church minister), Charles Thrash (Gordon’s son-in-law and lawyer), Christian Smith (Latin Teacher at ACC) , Pete Antoniewicz (UT Physics Prof), Rich Thompson (Central Presbyterian Minister), Dick Rew (Retired United Airline pilot), Dennis Cochran (Energy Entrepreneur) , Janie Flack (Gordon’s wife), Don Hauck (Pastor-Presbyterian Minister’ Fund and Children’s Home of Texas Administrator) and his wife Marge, Jim Fitzsimmons(Professor UT Business School), Gary Silcott, Steve Sletten (Software Engineer), Chieze Ibeneche (Physics Grad Student), Paul Landry (Chemical Sales Executive), Jim Vick (UT Math Professor), Vernon Wong ( UT physicist), Pete Pavlos (Operations Research Analyst), Fola Osifekun (Grad Student), Bill Winefordner (Coast Guard Seaman), Andy Nnewihe (Stanford graduate student), Roger Bengtson (UT Physics Professor), Austin Gleeson (Physics Professor), John Moore (Lawyer aid), David Racino (Co-Founder, CEO at American Canning), Julio Munoz (Chiropractor), Mark Sullivan, (plant nurseryman), Kathleen Monahan, (CPA), Dan Updegrove (Consultant, IT in Higher Education) and Mike Mullen (Lawyer) were added. Unfortunately injuries required the retirement of John Towery, Rose Lancaster and George Ricker, three stalwarts of the group. They were greatly missed. Charles Thrash, a longtime and loyal member of the group, moved in 2016 to Oregon seeking a better political and atmospheric climate. Paul Landry withdrew for health reasons in 2017. Fola moved. Julio Munoz moved back to Chicago. Others who joined the group briefly were Dave Dickerson (“Retired Worker”, his description) and Jerry Loft (Retired Financial Advisor.) On December 9, 2011, Ben White, a core member of the group died at age 88. His kindness, courtesy and excellent play is sorely missed. Christian Smith died in February 2012. Rose Lancaster died in 2013. Pete Antoniewicz died in 2015. Gordon Flack died 2019 and Marge Hauck also died in 2019. Links to their obituaries are in the navigation bar at the top of this page..
The group continues to play Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 AM regardless of temperature. Only very high winds combined with freezing temperatures or heavy rain the night before will force cancellation. Players are scheduled through email.
In 2020, the Covid-19 virus hit the country. Austin was among the communities that was out in front of the State in taking seriously the advice of scientists. It urged the wearing of masks, it closed businesses where people were likely to come in close contact, it canceled South by Southwest. The group continued to play using social distancing, hand sanitiezer and no shaking hands. It became clear that, despite assurances by the governor that we were going to be ok without much sacrifice, the virus numbers were increasing and health experts advised further action. Austin then banned large group gatherings and closed parks, including tennis courts. This continued until the State overuled the prudent city action and opened many businesses. It did not take long for the numbers in Texas and Austin to soar. Again the courts were closed. When they will open again remains unclear. The frustration with no tennis because of injuries was captured by the Poet Laureate of the group, Mark Sullivan. I think, it also can refer appropriately to the lack of play imposed by the virus.
"Hey girls and fellas
I’m very very jellas
With all this tennis playing
And my injuries not allaying
I’d like to announce or report
I sure do miss being on the court
I don’t know if I can take it any longer
Trying to get my knee a bit stronger
Congrats on playing and your exercise
It makes you healthy wealthy and wise
So tennis commissioner, Mr Mel
This not playing is pure hell"
I want to get back on tract
So let’s make a pact
To become personally wealthy
We have to get healthy
I don’t like feeling shoddy
And I feel it in my body
Since the beginning of the lockdown
Unhealthy habits have been abound
I’m going to change what I ingest
And change my habits and rest
My personal peace I want to satiate
So I’ll begin to daily meditate
I don’t know if it’s written in some psalm
My goal is peace and to become calm
6/11/95 Early Tennis Group and Spouses. Mel and Pat, John and Eleanor Towery, Garry and Judy Cole, Gordon and Janie Flack—a farewell dinner party for the Coles. Janie was the only spouse that played with the group.
L to R: Austin Gleeson, Jim Harlow, Roger Bengtson, Mark Sullivan, Charles Thrash, Vernon Wong, David Racino, Dick Rew, John Moore, Paul Landry, Mel Oakes. June 7, 2016, Austin High Tennis Courts
L to R: Mel Oakes, John Moore, David Racino, Jim Vick, Roger Bengtson, Jim Harlow, Charles Thrash, Adam Antoniewicz & Paul Landry, 2015
L to R: Mel Oakes, Andy Nnewihe, Chieze Ibeneche, Jim Vick, Paul Landry, Jim Harlow, Charles Thrash, Vernon Wong, Gordon Flack, Pete Pavlos, Don Hauck, Janie Flack, Dick Rew, and Pete Antoniewicz, October 14, 2014, Austin High. Missing Roger Bengtson.. Special thanks to Charles for the collection of antique racquets in the photo.
L to R: Mel Oakes, Charles Thrash, Don Hauck, Karol Lang, Dick Rew, Adam Antoniewicz, Jim Vick, and Pete Antoniewicz, Austin High School Courts, December 31, 2013, Austin, TX
L to R: Gordon Flack, Charles Thrash, Don Hauck, Dick Rew, Chieze Ibeneche, Jim Vick, Bill Winefordner, Paul Landry, Ben White, Jerry Loft, Pete Pavlos, Pete Antoniewicz and Mel Oakes, October 12, 2010, Austin High. Missing Janie Flack.
Don Hauck, Mel Oakes, Ben White, Dick Rew, Charles Thrash, Jim Vick, Pete Antoniewicz and Paul Landry, 2009
Gary Silcott, Don Hauck, Christian Smith(1925-2012), John Clark, Dennis Corkran, Gordon Flack, Charles Thrash and Mel Oakes, 1997
Gordon Flack, John Towery, Ben White, Rich Thompson, Rose Lancaster, George Rickert, Mel Oakes
Rose Lancaster, Ben White Mel Oakes, John Towery, George Ricker, John Clark, Charles Thrash
Mel Oakes, Gary Silcott, John Towery, Ben White, Gordon Flack, George Ricker, Janie Flack
L to R: Mel Oakes, Pete Antoniewicz, Susan Antoniewicz, Dick Rew, Lynn Rew, Chieze Ibeneche, Andy Nnewihe, Janie Flack, Gordon Flack, Karen Thrash, Charles Thrash, Kneeling: Vernon Wong, Don Hauck, Marge Hauck in chair. Party celebrating engagement of Andy and Chieze, April 11, 2012, Oakes Home. Austin, TX
L to R: Pat Oakes, Pete Antoniewicz, Susan Antoniewicz, Dick Rew, Lynn Rew, Chieze Ibeneche, Andy Nnewihe, Janie Flack, Gordon Flack, Karen Thrash, Charles Thrash, Kneeling: Vernon Wong, Don Hauck, Marge Hauck in chair. Party celebrating engagement of Andy and Chieze, April 11, 2012, Oakes Home. Austin, TX
L to R: Gordon Flack, Charles Thrash (trying to hide tears in his eyes, Karen Thrash, Janie Flack, Andy Nnewihe, Chieze Ibeneche Nnewihe, Pat Oakes, Dick Rew, Lynn Rew, Mel Oakes, Pat Oakes.
Andy and Chieze’s Wedding, September 7, 2012, Villa Antonia. Austin, TX
2018: L to R: Olunna and Chineche Nnewihe
Here are a couple of recent photos from a visit by Charles Thrash
Jim Vick, Mel Oakes, Dick Rew and Charles Thrash, Austin High Tennis Courts, January 21, 2010
John Moore, Jim Vick, Mel Oakes and Dick Rew, Austin High Tennis Courts, January 21, 2020.