“A CATS Tale”
Founded in 1969, CATS is Chicago’s oldest tennis organization. Where else could you enjoy playing with so many others at your skill level? We have three seasons, three levels of play with four teams each, with an average of six players on a team (co-ed, mixed doubles) — on the courts of Lakeshore Sport and Fitness. Our many social outings include such events as big league baseball, basketball, hockey, the theater, cocktail parties and tennis outings with dinner and refreshments afterwards at different venues around town.
The Early Years
The Chicago Advertising Tennis Society (CATS) was created by a group of folks who worked in the ever-exciting advertising world. The above-mentioned logo was done by Bill Hesterberg, an ad agency art director. In the beginning we were a small, loosely composed group. Ray Lithow was our first president and we played weekly on Tuesdays at Lakeshore Tennis Club.
Almost from the start we also had monthly Saturday night tennis parties, some serious tennis competition followed by happy socializing afterwards. A format we still follow today.
Our logo (that cool-looking, furry-coated “cat” with a left paw atop a tennis racquet) originally held a refreshing cocktail in the right paw. After some sober reflection, it was decided the libation should go, replaced by a couple of tennis balls. Sigh!
The ‘70s proved to be a great decade of growth for tennis and CATS. In 1972, John Wagner became our president, and a board of seven directors was created to run our growing club. John refers to them as the “magnificent seven”: Lee Redfield, Gaeton Lauri, Bill Koch, Dick Odem, Karen Sams, Barb Standish, and Joni Tuke.
Also, in 1972, mostly because of an increase in membership and expansion of teams, we moved our group to the relatively new Midtown Tennis Club. Over time, we added courts, allowing us to create a new division – Open – to join the existing A, B, and C levels.
We had our struggles: the paying of court fees had gotten chaotic. But, eventually, we got it all straightened out. Two board members each ponied up $500 as an interest-free loan to CATS, allowing the secretary to write a monthly check to cover court costs, and the now mandatory membership fees created enough funds to subsidize social events and purchase prizes for winning teams each season.
Robin and Dick Odem were the first “non”-advertising people to join CATS. Today we have lawyers (gasp!), teachers, hardly any candlestick makers, nor as far as we know, any convicted politicians…but we do have a very healthy mix of background and talent. Lifelong friendships have been formed and romance has blossomed. Emeline Bushma met and married Dwight Hunting. So, too, Olga and Phil Connor. While Lee Redfield and his wife Susan met before CATS started, they did bring their infant son in his baby seat to watch as they played CATS tennis at Lakeshore.
Entering the Digital Age
Around 2006, the board realized CATS needed to enter the digital age, so Dave Herd built CATS’ first website and took the photos used in it. A few years later, continuing to publish CATS Scene — the newsletter ─ became unfeasible. To fill the information gap, Meg Givhan and then-President Christine Frank expanded the information on the website to make it more useful to CATS members and show potential members what CATS has to offer. Meg also created a Facebook page for CATS.
Dramatic Changes in the Twenty-Teens!
By 2015, Midtown had begun a two- to three-year renovation, which impacted the 9 to 11 PM time frame we had enjoyed for so many years. We left Midtown and came home to Lakeshore Sport and Fitness, which had become a full-service health and tennis club.
In early 2019, we gasped in amazement as we realized CATS has been around for 50 years, and then began to figure out how to commemorate this amazing landmark. The first thing we did was plan a blow-out party to celebrate. Eighty-five long-time and new members, guests and alums spent the evening dancing, eating and getting acquainted or reacquainted at the Corinthian Yacht Club. No anniversary celebration would be complete without a commemorative gift, so special 50th Anniversary mugs were given to all current CATS members.
An historic announcement was made: Effective September 1, 2019, the name Chicago Advertising Tennis Society would be changed to Chicago Area Tennis Society to accurately reflect who we are today. It was explained that “keeping the acronym CATS was a must, so switching “Area” for “Advertising” made that easy. We are grateful to the advertising people who formed CATS, and appreciate its colorful history, but we’re not only looking back, we’re looking forward. We want to create an organization and a culture in which our newest, youngest members and future members feel welcome. They are the future of CATS, the people who will keep it going for another 50 years.”
If you’re new to CATS, we hope A CATS Tale helped to fill you in on what we have been, and what we are today. Stay tuned…who knows what will happen next?
As recalled by Sam Bruce, Richard Eastline, Emeline Hunting, Mary Moy, Robin Odem, Lee Redfield, Joni Tuke, Wally Warzecka, John Wagner, Meg Givhan. Originally gathered together by Dean Carson. Updated January 2022.
CATS Presidents in order: Ray Lithow, John Lindsay, John Wagner, Lee Redfield, Wally Warzecka, Richard Eastline, Don Wanfalt, Carter Klein, Al Funck, Sam Bruce, Dean Carson, Carolyn Popp, again Dean Carson, Christine Frank, and Bill Himmelmann.