Chewning Helped Get Vozenilek to Richmond
By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
Tom Chewning ha
s long been one of Richmond’s best ambassadors for tennis. Whether as a player, a generous volunteer of his time and money or a contributor as a coach, Chewning can always be counted on to deliver what’s needed.
In fact, he even had quite a bit to do with another Richmond volunteer and teacher coming to town.
Chewning was responsible for Betty Baugh Harrison’s visit to Seattle after her graduation from college. That’s where she met Tom Vozenilek, whom she married 30 years ago. They moved to Richmond in 1986, when Tom quickly became involved in the local tennis scene.
So perhaps it’s only fitting that both will be inducted with the latest class of the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame on Oct. 19 at the Westin Hotel. Tickets ($75) are available to the event through the sponsoring Richmond Tennis Association.
“She [Harrison] was one of my pupils at 5:30 in the morning when she was in high school,” said Chewning. “We would work out, along with Lloyd Hatcher, Martha Beddingfield, Kathleen Cummings, Tommy Cain, and sometimes Mark Vines.
“I followed her career at North Carolina and when she graduated, she called and asked me, ‘Do you mind if I and a couple of friends come out to Seattle and stay with you guys for a while?’ So they came out for a few months, and she was coaching and met this guy named Tom.”
Harrison, a former city champion, and Vozenilek were married in 1983 and moved to Richmond three years later.
“We met through some mutual friends in [Seattle],” said Vozenilek. “So if wasn’t for her going out there to see him, we would have never met.”
As soon as he got here, Vozenilek was introduced to what was then the Richmond Tennis Patrons Association, and he began teaching and working with the nationally ranked juniors, much like he had been doing in the Seattle area.
“Lindsay [Wortham] was nice enough to get me involved with the RTA,” said Vozenilek. “In addition to the RTA stuff, the other thing I did was I was the assistant coach at the University of Richmond for the men’s and women’s programs.”
Vozenilek has been involved in the real-estate business since he finished college, but “if it wasn’t for the money, I would have probably been a tennis pro. I just felt I had something to offer and was fortunate to have the opportunity with the RTA right away.”
Vozenilek served as treasurer and president of the RTA and as vice-president of the Virginia Tennis Association, where he served on the board. He was also selected as VTA coach of the year on one occasion.
In 1993, Vozenilek was the driving force behind the creation of the Trigon Club Challenge, which is now the Anthem Challenge, featuring over 600 players from 12 area clubs in a three-day competition at the Westwood Club to determine the top club in the city.
“It started around the same time we started the NationsBank [sponsorship] for the city tournament,” said Vozenilek, who is executive V-P for Global Corporate Services at CBRE. “We really blew up the rated division for it. We had hundreds of people playing in the rated.
“So we tried to figure out some creative way where we could have some competition amongst clubs and come up with a winner every year. We got Westwood to buy into hosting it and got the RTA board to buy into the concept of trying it.
“Everybody seemed to have a good time. We had a pre-event party and auction and raised a little money. It was fun.”
Twenty years later, the concept is still very popular and it’s scheduled for Sept. 27-29.
Chewning, a native of Richmond, has supported and created his share of tennis events in the area over the years.
The latest was helping to host the gala opening of the Arthur Ashe Learning Center at the Science Museum, which kept the exhibit detailing the Richmond native’s life and many causes for three weeks this summer.
“I got so much from the people who coached me, particularly Sam Woods at Byrd Park and Don Skakle, my coach at North Carolina,” said Chewning, who retired a few years ago from Dominion Resources, where he was chief financial officer.
“I got a lot of tennis instruction but more than that, I got a lot of life lessons from them. A lot of support and good advice about values and what was important in life. They were both very giving men, dedicated to the people they coached.”
And so Chewning decided that he would do the same in his life whenever possible.
“My interest in coaching has been that I love to teach and I love the game of tennis but also I like to be around young people and be one of the people that helps them, particularly during the teen-age years, in that important segment of their life.
“I really love the kids I coach, being an advisor or mentor. Sometimes a friend and sometimes a disciplinarian.”
Chewning’s early relationship with Ashe also influenced the way he has committed himself to helping others. Chewning met Ashe during a junior tournament in West Virginia and the two practiced together in secret at Brook Field, where Ashe lived in segregated Richmond.
“I think what Arthur gave me was a sense of making sure that you gave back to people who helped you and the things that made your life worthwhile,” said Chewning. “He was always so much of a giver himself. He gave clinics and was always willing to work with young people.
“He instilled in me an idea that you needed to be a role model. Do things the right way so young people would have examples to follow. I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done it anyway because it’s part of my personality and what I was taught by my mother and father.”
Chewning, who played at Thomas Jefferson High School and the University of North Carolina, has supported the U-Turn Sports Performance Academy, Smart Beginnings and Virginia Early Childhood Education, among other local entities.
“I look at it as a sort of pay it forward kind of thing,” he said. “Sometimes it’s your turn to receive and sometimes it’s your turn to give. I’ve been blessed to be able to give as much as I have. You want to bless people like you’ve been blessed. It’s a way of being grateful for all the things that you’ve been given.
“I don’t know when I learned it but I learned it pretty early on that people didn’t need to be nice to me but they were. That made an impression on me, and fortunately I’ve been able to turn some of my good fortune into helping other folks.”