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Hans von Kaltenborn
September 01, 1958
The father of radio news commentary, Hans von Kaltenborn, and his vivacious wife Olga collaborate on an unusual reminiscence of
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September 01, 1958

50 Years Of Love And Tennis

The father of radio news commentary, Hans von Kaltenborn, and his vivacious wife Olga collaborate on an unusual reminiscence of

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In september of this year we will have been married for 48 years. We have played tennis together for 50 years. Except for the game of love, we find tennis to be the most wonderful game. H. V. was 80 years old in July. O.K. will be 70 in October, and we still play tennis and love it, and we don't believe that tennis is a young man's game—or a young woman's. Of course, we oldsters don't dash up to the net after service. And, when we behave as we should, we don't run for drop shots. We know our limitations; but because we also know the game, we can still have a lot of fun. And as you grow older, you reconcile yourself to losing more often as you reconcile yourself to losing speed and endurance. Alice Marble once said that in tennis she always learned more from losing than from winning. It's good to win, but it's also good to lose, shake hands, smile and tell your opponent how good he was. In the game of life as in the game of tennis you can learn by losing—provided only that you don't lose too often! And this is how it was with us:

H.V. speaking

At about the time I became old enough to play tennis, my family moved from Milwaukee to Merrill, Wisconsin. To the best of my knowledge there was not a single tennis court in all of Merrill. It was a rough-and-ready lumber town, there were only a few rich families, and none of them cared about tennis as a sport.

There were plenty of other boys' games available, and my chief sport at that time was bicycling. I was a proud member of the League of American Wheelmen. Because of my keen interest in bicycling I was appointed local "consul" for the Merrill area. This meant sending notes of interest to bicycle riders, to the league's official newspaper, soliciting memberships and taking the lead in setting century records for the Merrill area. Anyone who bicycled 100 miles in less than 12 hours over rough, dirt roads—motorcars belonged to the future—was entitled to a century pin for his accomplishment. I won several pins for myself, and this helped develop my leg muscles to the point where they have stood up under more than half a century of tennis playing.

During my service in the Spanish-American War of 1898 there could be no thought of tennis, nor could I think of enjoying any kind of sport during my early years at the Brooklyn Eagle from 1902 to 1905, when I worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, as a reporter. Not until I began going to Harvard in 1905 and felt very much in need of exercise could I even think of playing tennis. But at that time, because of the solid legs I developed in bicycling, running on the cross-country team seemed attractive. The practice runs of the Harvard team, however, which started at one mile and gradually worked up to five, tired me out to such an extent that I simply had to go to bed early. This I could not afford to do, since I needed the evening hours for study. I was earning my way through Harvard and had to make a good enough scholastic record to hold a much-needed scholarship. So I reluctantly abandoned hope of winning glory as a runner.

It was only two years later, in my junior year, when I had finally worked off most of the regular entrance requirements—Harvard originally accepted me as a special student—that I began to play tennis. I played a miserable beginner's game, but, since there were many others who played no better, it was great fun to run about the court, hit an occasional ball, get a good workout and enjoy the shower that followed.

Upon graduation in 1909 I was lucky enough to receive an appointment as tutor to Millionaire John Jacob Astor's son Vincent. We lived for a while on the Astor estate at Rhinebeck, New York. There was a luxurious, covered tennis court, and one of my duties was to make up a fourth at doubles whenever I was needed. I played so badly that they called on me as little as possible, and since one of my maxims was to try and do well whatever I undertook to do, I made up my mind then and there to learn how to play tennis the first chance I got.

My wife and I had played together occasionally from the time I first met her in 1908, and we had actually won a cup in a handicap tournament at Freeport, New York. But she was always the better player, and it was years before I could beat her. She still insists that she is too wise a wife to do her best to beat me, and I am willing to let her have the last word, at least on this issue.

Yet it was not until 1922, at the age of 44, the same year in which I began my career as a radio news analyst, that I was earning enough money and had enough leisure to join the Heights Casino in Brooklyn. There I began to take regular tennis lessons from a first-class Scots professional, Harry McNeil. For the first time I learned how to grip my racket, how to follow through, how to keep my eye on the ball and how to change the position of my feet when driving a backhand or a forehand. In other words, I began to learn how the game should be played, and I will always be grateful to Harry McNeil for teaching me the fundamentals of the greatest game I know. For tennis has meant a great deal to me for the last 36 years in the way of good health, good fun, good companionship and good exercise. And my real tennis fun began after I was 45, at an age when doctors who do not know the game are apt to tell their patients to stop playing for fear of straining the heart.

The game of tennis has given me friendly contact with many prominent personalities in a pleasant and informal way. I remember, for example, beginning a friendly association with Henry Wallace, then Secretary of Agriculture, by playing tennis with him in Washington during one of my frequent visits to our nation's capital. He liked to play before breakfast on the courts of the big apartment hotel where he lived. The first time, we played doubles with the Swiss minister and then wound up with a vigorous set of singles in which I was thoroughly trounced. This was partly because he was the younger man, but chiefly because I was the poorer player. We both covered court fairly well, but his strokes were better than mine and he had a harder service.

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