USA Table Tennis

2012 Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

DICK EVANS (Official/Contributor)

            By Tim Boggan

            Dick Evans was brought up in Charleston, West Virginia, and, given the up-in-the-hills- militiaman photo of him at 14, it’s no surprise that he belonged to a gang of boys and girls called the River Rat Raiders (non-violent…I think). What was surprising is that as the 1930’s turned into the ‘40’s Dick’s indoorsman’s-side surfaced—he played table tennis, participated in what he says is the longest continuously running league in U.S. Table Tennis history, the Kanawha Valley Industrial League. And, along the way, he won the State Junior title, then repeated as the West Virginia Men’s Singles and Doubles Champion.

            In the continuing ‘50’s, Dick, for a while, a short while, was a starving, flunk-out student at Tulane in New Orleans—a city he revisited almost 30 years later, proclaiming it to be “tacky, gaudy, loud, sleazy, dirty—in short, a wonderful place.” Returning to his home state, he was a slimmed-down, serious-minded student at West Virginia University in Morgantown. However, in 1960, he would leave West Virginia and that local tennis team he’d played for, and move to Rhode Island.  

What, you may well ask, did Providence have in mind for Dick? Answer: A second wife, Ann Andre Evans—she had a graduate research fellowship in Sociology at Brown University. A job—he was a psychiatric social worker at the Community Workshops of East Providence. And of course, since his wife was also a good player, more serious table tennis. He became the Rhode Island Champion, and in 1962 would run a very successful Eastern Open.

Dick had fun times at his Providence Club, but remembers particularly how Sol Schiff came by one time and asked him to go to Massachusetts with him, to the port city of New Bedford to give two exhibitions. “There,” said Dick, “we played before some enthusiastic, not to say crazy, Portuguese players who, after the demise of the whaling industry, were now largely employed as firemen, factory workers, and bar owners. At our first stop, a firehouse, Sol hit balls around the brass sliding-pole while I retrieved them sitting in a kitchen sink that was up against a wall four feet behind the table. The Club Madeira was even more exciting. The longer we stayed, the drunker, louder, and more hostile the Portuguese got—especially when Sol made monkeys out of them with his finger-spin serves. We were lucky to get out of there without being gang-raped.”

            By April, 1963, Dick and Ann had left Providence and were immediately welcomed into the Ohio Closed, where Ann won the Singles.  Dick joined with Bong Mo Lee (D-J Lee’s cousin who would later be instrumental in bringing D-J to Columbus), John Spencer, and E.J. (Ted) Henry to take over the Columbus Table Tennis Club from Guy Blair. Dick says that “Bong Mo made direct contact with Tamasu” and that their club was allowed “not only to buy Butterfly

 products direct (good rubber was 40 cents a sheet) but that they were offered the option of becoming the U.S. distributor before Bowie Martin got it.” However, the Columbus Club rejected the offer because they didn’t have the capital and didn’t really want to get involved.

             In the spring of 1965, Dick became one of the country’s first National umpires, and later would become an International one, serving at the 1989 Dortmund, Germany World’s. He was appointed to the USTTA E.C. as Corresponding Secretary, and then over the Labor Day weekend he Captained the victorious U.S. Junior Team at the Toronto CNE—John Tannehill, Alice Green, and Glenn Cowan.

            In 1967, Dick will chair the U.S. International Team Squad—while Ann for the second time will be ranked among the Top 10 Women players in the country. At the USOTC’s she’ll give 1966 U.S. Open winner, the Canadian defender, ten-time National Champion Violetta Nesukaitis, her only loss. “Ann was a good forehand hitter against chop,” Dick reminiscing would say. “Perhaps in some measure,” he added, “because of her partner”—that is, Dick himself, a chopper.

            Soon, though, their marriage will break up, and Dick, after winning a narrow election for U.S. Recording Secretary from USTTA Rules Chairman Cyril Lederman, will become the President of the Ohio TTA. For someone whom Tulane told to get the hell out, he certainly has repeatedly taken on responsibilities.   

            It’s 1968 and Dick and John Read both want to Captain the U.S. Team to the 1969 Munich World’s. In a straw vote among the five Committee deciders, Dick has a 3-2 edge. But Bong Mo and D-J (who wants Read as Captain because he can manipulate him) convince Jack Carr to change his swing-vote from Evans to Read without even giving Dick a chance to hear and rebut what these two Lees are saying about him.

            Dick says he was never one to walk on the wild side—though, since the West Virginia state motto is “Mountaineers are always free, ” it might not surprise you that I’ve seen a photo of Dick and some of his friends, men and women, skinny-dipping together. But it didn’t seem appropriate to show that here. Of course, Dick needed some fun, needed some whimsical moments in his unofficial life. He speaks of a game young Tannehill, grown into the Club’s resident teenage hippie, invented. “We called it ‘Strip Ping-Pong’ and it could only be played after hours with the draperies closed and the front door locked. It was a game for the boys, although there was one of our club ‘mascots’ who liked to join in because not only did she like just about any excuse to take her own clothes off, she liked seeing this particular John in the nude. Though what she found so special about that, I don’t know, do you?

            Later, Dick congratulates John on being dressed for our Hall.

            Of course Evans, too, was often dressed, and quite respectably. Here, in a photo, Dick as scorekeeper and Jim Rushford as umpire are diplomatically keeping the visiting 1972 Chinese in check. That’s Errol Resek and his partner Peter Pradit battling Li Furong and Zhang Xielin at their Cobo Hall, Detroit U.S. Tour stop.

            For sure, a person had to have some moments of levity in his life if he were going to run a table tennis club. Dick did it for 10 years. Good thing he had a job as a social worker, ‘cause what “with rent, heat, and electric bills, it was really only the twice-a-week leagues that allowed the place to survive.” He also learned that “if you wanted something to get done, you had to do it yourself—even simple things like sweeping floors, taking out trash, and setting up tables. “

            Dick needed to open a door or two, clear the air, leave that Columbus Club. Off he went then to Greece and the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

            Already, too, about this time, with his stepson Eric, he’s building his “Friar’s Knob’ hilltop cabin-retreat on the 143 acres in Hillsboro, West Virginia he’d had the foresight to buy in 1970. No one could foresee, though, that years later veteran U.S. Closed Control Desk Operator Richard Alden, while visiting Dick at this secluded Friar’s Knob, would suffer a sudden, fatal heart attack. To watch someone close to you die unexpectedly, no help near, had to be a very unnerving and sad experience.

            In 1973, off Dick went to Berkeley, to the San Francisco T.T. Clubs, to the poetry of Ferlinghetti’s City Lights legendary book store. There listening to the sounds of a different drummer, he finally, as he said, got it right, met Sue, his third wife—38 years they’ve been married now.

            “We’ve been building our house this winter” reads one of the letters I’ve been receiving from Dick for more than four decades. “Splitting a lot of firewood as we fiercely consider the requisites for survival at 3700 feet on a wild westward-facing mountain with -5 degree temperature and 50 mph winds.”

            But with the spring thaw comes the call. “Return…Return.” And, déjà vu, Dick is soon reunited with his old Columbus club-mate Bill Hodge. It’s 1976 and the first U.S. Closed. Bill, with the blessings of Caesars Palace executive Neil Smyth, is in charge of the tournament, and wants Dick to be Director of Physical Operations.

            It’s an historic new beginning for Evans—one of the reasons almost 15 years ago he was inducted into our Hall and gave a mountain-man’s bear-hug to our Hall’s Founder, Steve Isaacson. Historic because this Closed at Caesars is the first of 12 U.S. Closeds and 6 U.S. Opens he’ll do the set-ups for—this exhausting work eventually culminating in his great playing-site Implementation Service at the ’96 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

What specifically as Director of Physical Operations did Dick do? For all those years, this: “I get to the site a couple of days before the tournament starts and stay on after it’s over. I make sure the tables and barriers have arrived and are setup as they should be. And don’t think, say, a 50-table, 500-barrier job is easy. Even with the necessary tools and a foot-blistering, sweat-soaked, finally learned system of assembly, it might still be 20 minutes a table, and literally 24 hours for three men, each working 8-hour shifts, to set everything up—all done on the two days before the tournament in a not yet air-conditioned venue.

In addition, I check out the spectator-seating arrangement (maybe 5,000 chairs are needed), and of course I check out the floor, be it wood, carpet, or concrete, check out the lights, the P.A. system, the control desk, the scheduling flow charts, the concession arrangements, and the early-morning clean-up. I hire and supervise the labor crew, which means you have to know the tricks of the trade so day by day you can keep the best workers, separate them from the minimum-hourly-wage drunks and drifters who haven’t enough motivation. I’m also responsible for being a ‘stagehand supervisor,’ a ‘fireman,’ and a policeman.’”

Of course the unexpected is always possible. At one National’s in Las Vegas at the Tropicana when Dick was working with Tournament Director Dennis Masters, whom he had the highest regard for, Chance shook the dice and flung out rain. So? So, since the annual rainfall in Vegas is only 7 inches, some casino hotels—like the Tropicana—don’t bother to repair their leaky roofs. And, said Dick, when 3 and ½ inches fell in just one hour on a Saturday afternoon while the National Championships were being played in a sunken pavilion with a leaky roof, what do you think happened? The water literally cascaded down the carpeted stairs from the casino into the pavilion below. In less than 30 minutes 50 table tennis tables were standing in two inches of water that covered the entire floor. ‘No sweat,’ said Dennis. He and I quickly enlisted a dozen casino porters with three-foot rubber squeegees and shoulder to shoulder moved the water 250 feet out the far end of the building.

Withal during those hard-working years, Dick will still find time to win the 1986 U.S. Open Esquire Doubles with Rich Livingston, deuce in the 3rd over Marty Prager and Marv Leff, and later, after a hip replacement, he’ll continue playing competitively at least into his mid-70’s.

Evans, doing what he does year after year, invariably strikes a balance between his home life and his table tennis life. He’s a home-builder and furniture maker. He ushered in the new millennium by constructing a picnic shelter in his Friar’s Knob woods; however, it was so secluded that he couldn’t keep the bears from nibbling on the cedar benches. For relaxation, Dick plays Lord of the Manor with his late-lamented faithful dog Casey, and enjoys Mozart…while Sue turns the soil in the garden, picks out rocks, and plants onions and peas.

As he plays less and less, Dick continues to spend time on court—but as an official, and one who’s subject to surprises. In the 2005 Cary Cup tournament, in the match between Thomas Keinath and Ludovic Gombos, after half a dozen points have been played, Keinath points out to umpire Evans that both sheets of rubber on Gombos’s racket are black. Hmm, yes, unusual, how’d that racket get into play and actually stay in play for a while?

Which reminds me—Dick is the administrator for the Dr. Michael Scott Award for excellence in umpiring. And also the administrator for the Swaythling Club International Sportsmanship Award.  

Most prominent among rather recent Hall of Fame happenings has been the Annual Nate Wasserman Memorial Scholarship Awards. Hall of Famer Si Wasserman began his recent service to worthy table tennis causes with a $100,000 donation—the money to be awarded to the nation’s premier junior players in honor of Si’s late younger brother Nate.  Credit should also go to former Hall of Fame President Steve Isaacson who encouraged Si to make this donation and helped him to implement it.

Evans succeeded Isaacson as our Hall’s President, and for the last six years has worked tirelessly and successfully to make the Hall as meaningful and popular as possible. To again take 2010 as an example, Dick, in his role as fund-raiser, sent out approximately 400 solicitation letters, and got a 14% response, averaging $80 a contribution.

O.K., enough—even for one of my long-time best and most respected friends. In this ending photo, Dick seems to be saying, “Well, that’s it, what you’ve seen and heard is at least somewhat representative of my 80-year-old life. And, if, as it were, he gives us his hands-up blessing, let’s give him ours. Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2012 Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Dick Evans.