After new tennis courts were installed beside the Quarry in 1951, it took some time for interest in the game to spread beyond a core of enthusiasts. However, within a decade, membership in the St. Marys Tennis Club had grown to 100 and by the mid-1970s, had impressively reached the 300 mark. The original courts could not meet demand for playing time and, in 1975, two new courts were opened, thanks to a generous donation from the St. Marys Cement Company and the club’s own fundraising efforts. Driving this expansion were club president Dalton Blackmore, a teacher at the Collegiate, and the indefatigable Don Fletcher, whose enthusiasm and dedication to tennis built membership numbers, particularly drawing from students at local schools.
Born in 1923, Don had grown up in St. Marys participating in every sport available: swimming, distance running, baseball, hockey and football. Following wartime service as a radio operator with the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, he attended Western, qualifying to teach physical education and mathematics at the secondary level. In 1946, he was hired for the summer as the first lifeguard at the Quarry. A charter member of the St. Marys Kinsmen, he played a huge role in that club’s many contributions to local sports facilities.
Don’s commitment to tennis began in the 1950s. His organizational ability and his determination to share his passion are still remembered by his former tennis students. In June 1990, the tennis courts were named in his honour and a bronze commemorative plaque was placed just outside the fence. Don died in February 1992 after a two-year battle with cancer.
At the funeral, his nephew, Bob Benner, delivered a eulogy, later printed in the Journal Argus. He spoke movingly of Don’s support for his younger brothers and sisters as they were growing up during the Depression and the strong will that marked all his actions. Don’s single-minded determination was sometimes infuriating. Many families remember early morning phone calls, insisting that players turn up for tournaments they had hoped to skip. Still, Bob pointed out that Don introduced local children to a game that in some other communities only those with wealthier parents could afford.
Some young club members appear in this week’s photograph, taken in 1963. Don stands proudly at the back. His nephew, Bob Benner, is at the front left, holding up his crest. Both this photo and the photo last week belong to Rob and Barbara Favacho, who generously gave permission for their use.