2004 Grassroots champion of the year: Gwen and Dan Ramras
There isn’t much guesswork involved regarding the whereabouts of Dan and Gwen Ramras when they don’t answer the telephone at their home in Fairbanks, Alaska. The answering machine announces, “Hi. You’ve reached the Ramras home. Hopefully, we are either playing tennis or organizing it. Ciao!”
When Gwen returns the call to reluctantly agree to an interview, she is clear about her intentions. “It might inspire some other individual not to take no for an answer. No matter what the obstacles are, you can do it,” she says emphatically.
For their tenacity in continually generating new playing opportunities in Fairbanks — most recently instituting tennis as a high-school sport at five local schools — Dan and Gwen Ramras are RSI’s 2004 Grassroots Champions of the Year.
Kirk Anderson, the USTA’s director of community play, met the couple when he traveled to Fairbanks in July to train the new high school tennis coaches, alongside his wife, Carol, who is the executive director of the USPTA’s Midwest Division, and former Anchorage tennis coach Jody Inman. “Gwen and Dan have connections in Fairbanks and passion for tennis,” Anderson says. “Put those together, and they’re making things happen.”
“Where should I start? They’re pretty much Mr. and Mrs. Tennis in Fairbanks,” says Bill Leong, executive director of the USTA Pacific Northwest Section. “Tennis is their life. Dan is so passionate about working with kids, and Gwen is one of the few people involved in promoting tennis at the local, regional and national level.” (She serves on the board of the volunteer-run Fairbanks Tennis Association (FTA), is executive vice president of the Pacific Northwest Section’s board of directors, and serves on the national USTA Community Tennis and NJTL committees.)
Together for 29 years (married for 15), Gwen and Dan Ramras only started playing tennis while on vacation in Maui in 1986. After two weeks of lessons, they were shocked when the public parks teaching pro refused payment. Instead, he told them to make a donation to junior tennis.
Their efforts to return the favor began by gathering fellow tennis enthusiasts in their living room in June 1995, a meeting that led to the creation of the FTA and a free youth summer tennis program in Fairbanks that has continued for the past nine years. With a $5,000 grant from the USTA in 1999, the FTA hired a teaching pro to conduct additional summer clinics for juniors and, for the first time, adults. Today, there’s a full schedule of low-cost summer programming.
Disappointed with the dismal condition of the six public tennis courts behind the recreation center, Dan persevered through bureaucratic red tape for four months until Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles could accept his $100,000 donation to cover the cost of resurfacing in 2002. The courts were renamed the Dan Ramras Community Tennis Courts. Gwen, who earned the Eve Kraft USTA Community Service Award in 2001, battled for two years before tennis was accepted as a sanctioned high-school sport in Fairbanks this past fall. The 74 players are sponsored by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and supported by the USTA, FDA, The Alaska Club and Dr. Ann Shortt, superintendent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.
The Ramras’ now are focusing on raising funds to build a public tennis facility with six indoor and six outdoor courts. “Providing an opportunity for adults and children to learn and master tennis at whatever level they desire is absolutely one of the most rewarding things I have ever done,” Gwen says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The Ramras’ Tips for Success
- Don’t take “no” for an answer. Bureaucracy sometimes requires creativity. If one person says no, try to convince him otherwise while building other alliances.
- It takes a village. Use any and all resources to make your dreams a reality. Grants, volunteers and town officials can all help.
- Pay it forward. The generosity of one special teaching pro inspired more than a decade of community service in Gwen and Dan Ramras. Do what you can, big or small, to make the tennis world in your neck of the woods a better place.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.