Peggy Widmier (not yet Ichkoff) is first mentioned in Topics when, unranked the previous season, she improved quickly to play a strong match at the Jan. 19-20, 1946 Illinois Open—falling –13, -20, -20 in the 8th’s to U.S. #12 Carrol Blank.
Although Peggy apparently hadn’t played in the most important tournaments held in Chicago prior to this year’s January one, she now began to enter them all. At the Feb. 16-17 Central States, she lost in the quarter’s in 4 to Mary Specht, U.S. #13.
It would seem Peggy’s first out-of-town tournament was the Mar. 16-17 Wisconsin Open at Milwaukee, where she scored no upsets, but paired with Shirley Abelew, wife of Top 10 player, Topics Editor, and USTTA 1st Vice-President Berne Abelew, to reach the semi’s of the Women’s Doubles before losing in 4 to the Blank twins.
Wow! Peggy actually won the Apr. 27-28 Cook County Open—beating Carlyn Blank, 18 in the 5th in the semi’s, and Specht, deuce in the 5th in the final. These wins resulted in her first National Ranking—U.S. #12.
At both the June 15-16 Toledo Mid-Summer Invitational and the Chicago July 20-21 Western States, Peggy lost in the semi’s to Leah Thall, poised at U.S. #2 to win her first of nine National Singles Championships. At this latter Western States tourney, Peg won an impressive quarter’s match (after being down 2-1 and at 27-all) from Chicago’s Carolyn Wilson, formerly the best player in the Maryland/D.C. area.
Thirteen players tried out in Nov., ’46 for the West Team whose three Qualifiers would meet the East Qualifiers in the Women’s East-West Matches that would decide the U.S. Team to the 1947 Paris World’s. But, as Peggy reportedly “started with the jitters,” her 6-5 record, which included a win over Qualifier Thelma “Tybie” Thall, wasn’t good enough to advance her to the final Matches that would be held in Dec. in Massachusetts.
At the Mar. 22-23 Wisconsin Open at Shorewood, newly married Peggy (whose husband Dick Ichkoff won the Men’s Consolation here) eliminated Carlyn Blank in the semi’s, 19 in the 4th, but then lost in the final to Specht.
The 1947 Chicago U.S. Open was Peggy’s first National’s, and she did o.k. by giving the visiting Englishwoman Elizabeth Blackbourn, current World runner-up, a –17, -22, -18 workout. (Blackbourn later lost in the semi’s to Defending Champ Bernice Chotras who in turn lost to the new Champion Leah Thall.)
That fall, in the St. Louis District tournament, Peggy reached the semi’s, but, after grittily hanging on in the 4th, 27-25, lost to Tybie in 5. Also, a loss to St. Louis’s Betty Jane Schaefer kept Peggy from Qualifying for the West Team and having a chance to make the 1948 U.S. World Team.
Again proving that she was a contender, Peggy (now Illinois TTA Treasurer), after being pressed 23-21 in three of four games with Carolyn Wilson, defeated Millie Shipman, 3-time National Women’s Doubles Champ with Sally Green Prouty.
At the 1948 National’s in Columbus, site of the famous deuce-in-the-5th Miles-Reisman Men’s final, Peggy upset the # 7 seed, 1945 National Champion Davida Hawthorn, then was beaten by Tybie who’d just won the World Mixed Doubles with Miles. Peggy, partnered by Specht, also did well to give the winning Thall sisters a 23, -17, -20, -17 scare.
Too bad for West-Qualifer Peggy—for at the 1948 East-West Matches she was beaten by all three Easterners, Chotras, Millie Shahian, and Peggy McLean (whom Ichkoff was leading 18-14 in the 3rd before, ohhh, losing 7 straight).
It took a good player now to beat Peggy, and there wasn’t anyone to stop her from winning the Dec. Chicago Lake States’ Singles and Doubles. However, at the Jan. 29-30, 1949 Central Open, Mary Specht got the better of her after Peggy had downed Carlyn Blank Zimmerman. Peggy did as well as could be expected in Doubles though. She won the Women’s with Mary (though they were pressured 28-26 in the 4th by one of the Van De Houton twins (Topics couldn’t tell which) and Carolyn Wilson (soon to be married to Ralph Bast). In the Mixed, Peg and Jimmy Shrout won, if not the title (that went to Specht/Bill Holzrichter), at least the spectators’ rapt attention by downing Gordon Barclay/Carrol Blank Jaeger in a 24-22-in-the-5thquarter’s match.
In the Wisconsin Open at Milwaukee, Ichkoff reasserted Singles control—more or less blanked Jaeger (4, 8, 4!) then finished off Zimmerman 3-zip. But faced with new opponents at the Mar. 5-6 Western Open at Des Moines, she faltered some. In the semi’s she rallied from down 2-1 to beat L.A.’s Tiny Moss who was back visiting family and friends in Minnesota. But then she was beaten by Bill Price-coached Joan Gummels, this year’s first U.S. Open Junior Miss Champion.
No National titles yet for Peggy—at the 1949 National’s she lost in the 8th’s to the eventual finalist Reba Monness. Her end-of-season ranking? U.S. #7.
At the Oct. Chicago Lake States that for some opened the 1949-50 season, Peggy beat 5-time U.S. Champion Sally Green Prouty who was back playing again. In the East-West Matches, Peggy wasn’t shut out, like last year; she downed Shahian, but lost to Leah Thall Neuberger, Monness, and Mae Clouther.
In the quarter’s of the 1950 National’s, Peggy faced a new opponent—more tennis than table tennis star, one Magda Rurac. Hype on her was that she was “a rather well-known international figure”: a Rumanian who in tennis had beaten the likes of Pauline Betz and Gussie Moran, and who had been “Rumania’s champion in cycling, swimming, fencing, and table tennis (having once triumphed over [Austria’s 1938 World Champion] Trude Pritzi).” However, towards the end of last year, Tiny Moss had beaten her, 19 in the 5th, in an L.A. tournament, and in their only encounter Peggy had gotten the better of Tiny.
Peggy, the #5 seed here, had Magda down 2-1, but lost the key 4th at 19 and then the 5th. Afterwards, Rurac fell to the eventual winner Neuberger, 3-0 (but two of the games were deuce). In Women’s Doubles, before being beaten in the final by Rurac/Shahian, Peggy and Joan Van De Houton upset Neuberger/Prouty (Sally, not feeling her best, was due for surgery, and, under doctor’s orders, didn’t play Singles). In the Mixed, Peggy paired with Allan Levy, and though they knocked out Barclay and this year’s Junior Miss Champ Joanne Gardner, they lost in the semi’s to the winners, former World Champion Johnny Leach and Prouty.
Another new season, and at the Nov., 1950 Chicago Central Open, Ichkoff beat both Shipman and Prouty (who was then promptly told again by her doctor not to play Singles). Ichkoff, paired with Levy, also won the Mixed over Toledo’s Bob Harlow/Prouty in a 24-22 in the 5th heart-stopper that would have given Sally’s doctor chest pains.
In the 1950 East-West Matches, Peggy was 2-2, with wins over Pauline Robinson and Ruthe Brewer Crist, but with an expected loss to Neuberger (4-0) and an unexpected 9, 22 loss to young Patty McLinn (3-1). Ichkoff was fortunate that Tybie Sommer (3-1) couldn’t make the 1951 trip to Vienna, for, despite her loss to McLinn, Peggy would represent the U.S. at that March World’s.
Perhaps Ichkoff competitively relaxed a bit at the Jan. 27-28 Illinois Open, since, before beating Prouty in the final (yes, damn, Sally was playing Singles again), in the semi’s she, now U.S. #6, had to go 5 with Milwaukee’s Mona Buell, U.S. #17.
Off to Vienna Peggy went, where the World’s Program had a photo caption for her that read “Pauline Ichkoff”—which, I was surprised to learn, was her correct birth name. In Corbillon Cup play, the U.S. opened with easy wins against Switzerland and Italy. But then against England, though Leah beat both the formidable 17-year-old Rowe twins, winners of the World Women’s Doubles Championship here, Peggy couldn’t beat either, and Leah/Patty lost the doubles. Since we also lost to the strong Austrian and Hungarian teams, but blitzed Germany and edged Yugoslavia 3-2, we ended with a 4-3 record. In Cup singles, Peggy’s record was 2-3; in doubles 0-3 (but all losses were against tough teams).
In Individual play, Peggy lost her first match, 1-3, to a good Indian player, Sayeed Sultana. Then she won the Women’s Consolation! In the Mixed, Peggy and Reisman lost in the 3rd round to the Czechs Stipek/Cedlova, a recognized tough team. In Women’s Doubles, Peggy and Leah advanced through three rounds to reach the semi’s, upsetting Scotland’s Helen Elliot (twice a World Women’s Doubles winner) and England’s Peggy Franks (also a World Women’s Doubles winner) in 5, before being eliminated, 19 in the 4th, by Rumanian runner-ups Rozeanu (World Singles Champion 1950 through 1955) and Szasz. Thus, Peggy had a very good showing abroad.
Having slept en route back to the States in sleeping bags on the floor of an Army transport plane that had no seats, the U.S. Team arrived in New York the day before the U.S. Open was to get underway, and so made it to St. Louis in time for their opening matches. Having such good results abroad had to have given Peggy confidence, and she advanced to the Women’s semi’s with ease, gently finishing off Marion Mueller who’d been down 2-0 to Lona Flam then rallied into the 5th, at which time Lona took a tumble, injured her right knee, and had to default.
In the semi’s, Peggy, down 2-0 to Shahian, fought furiously—won the 3rd at 19, the 4th, and finally the 5th at deuce. No way she could have done that before seeing the intensity of the World’s best players and competing among them. Having gotten to the final though, she just wasn’t good enough to stop Leah. Peggy, with Prouty, was also a losing finalist in Women’s Doubles—to Neuberger/Shahian.
With the coming of the 1951-52 season, Elmer Cinnater, who’d been USTTA President for 5 years, decided that he’d had quite enough and so didn’t finish out the last year of his term. Taking his place was 34-year-old Jimmy Shrout, a nationally ranked player who had his own advertising business in Chicago with a staff of five that included his Secretary, Peggy Ichkoff, the Peggy Ichkoff.
The Nov. 10-11, 1951 Chicago Lake States Open was the site of the Western Women’s Tryouts for the West Team that would play the East-West Matches Nov. 24-25 in Philadelphia. Of the 26 women invited to the Tryouts, 10 accepted and they played a complete round robin to determine the 4 Western Qualifiers who would compete for the U.S. International Team—though it was clear the USTTA had no intention of sending a Team to the 1952 Bombay World’s. Peggy Ichkoff finished 1st (8-1—with a loss to Mary Specht). Carolyn Wilson Bast was 2nd; Shahian 3rd; and 1951 National Junior Miss Champion Sharon Koehnke 4th. The final Matches in Philadelphia were dominated by Neuberger who, in playing 7 opponents, didn’t give up a game. Peggy, 5-2, placed 2nd with an additional loss to Pauline Robinson, but a 26, -19, 18 win over McLinn that she might have lost. A bummer for Peggy of course, since being on an amorphous Team that would see no funding, no trips, no international competition meant little or nothing to anyone.
At the Jan. 5-6 St. Joe Valley Open in South Bend, Ichkoff was an easy winner over Specht, but at the Illinois Open she lost to Bast.
Again at the National’s, no problem for Ichkoff to advance in the Singles, her 3-0 quarter’s victim again being Marion Mueller. But though in the semi’s she again tried to fight her way back—in this case after being down 2-0 to Lona Flam—she lost the 3rd 22-20, and Lona then went on to drop an uncontested final to Leah. In Women’s Doubles, Peggy, playing with her chief at-home competitor Carolyn, couldn’t do in Flam/Robinson either who then finished runner-ups to Neuberger Shahian. Also, though in the Mixed semi’s, Peggy, with Allan Levy, could give some comeuppance to Lona, partnered by Tibor Hazi, in the final they were powerless against Neuberger/Schiff.
That 1952 spring, Shrout decided to continue on (for a two-year term) as USTTA President. So Peggy, whom we’ll continue to follow in Part II, remained, as Jimmy put it, the President’s “Executive Assistant”—which suggests increased off-court preoccupations for her…and hassles.