Tennis icon and equine instructor Joan Ramey remembered by those she impacted

July 3, 2022 | 12:08 am

Updated July 3, 2022 | 8:26 pm

Owensboro recently lost an equine enthusiast and a tennis legend that impacted the lives of countless people across the country, as Joan Ramey died June 25.

Ramey became famous within the tennis world through hosting camps around the country, helping develop players and elevate their games in high school and even college. Her son David Ramey — one of her three children including David’s sisters Dianne and Laura — recalled when the first camp was created, saying his mom’s passion for tennis instruction beginning in Minnesota.

“When we lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, mom decided that one way she could pursue her love of tennis would be to start giving instruction on how to play tennis,” David Ramey said. “So she started her first summer tennis camp at Bemidji State University.”

The camps became wildly popular across the country, as they were spread out over five states and would even overlap to run at the same time. Ramey was also the proud owner of the first ever tennis house in Kentucky — alongside Doug Ford — entitled “Our Tennis House.”

“She absolutely loved teaching people about the things that she loved,” David Ramey said. “Tennis was her first great love and she certainly became well-known nationally for her tennis camps… She accomplished a lot as far as teaching hundreds, maybe thousands of kids how to play tennis.”

She continued to trailblaze paths for women in tennis throughout her life, including being the first woman to become the head coach of the men’s tennis team at Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Altaf Merchant was one of those tennis players deeply affected by Joan and Our Tennis House, as he met Ramey in 1986 when he was 12 years old. Leaving from his home in India, Merchant received a scholarship to go to one of Ramey’s camps and it was recommended that he train with her.

“We hit it off and we both sponsored players with Prince racquets,” Merchant said. “We kept in touch via snail mail, and when I came to the United States as a freshman for college tennis I visited Joan on my first free weekend. I ended up working for her every summer and winter break for four years.”

Ramey’s tutelage helped Merchant become a force in tennis. He served as the team captain at Southern Illinois University and was an all-conference tennis and academic all-conference selection. Merchant said that Joan taught him more about the biomechanics of tennis than anybody he’s ever met, which helped him become a two-time national champion in India, a two-time winner of the Masters in India, and a representative of India in the Orange Bowl.

Merchant spent countless hours with Joan on the court finding ways to help players in tennis whether they were in high school or college, but his fondest memory comes from his own playing days.  

“We were playing mixed doubles together at the state open one year,” Merchant said. “We were barely hanging on and I told her, ‘Mrs. Ramey physically they are destroying us, we have to outthink them and mentally beat them.’ So we started coming up with all kinds of plays, fake moves, poaches and even an underhand serve and we won in a third set tiebreaker. After the match she told me, ‘Altaf you worked hard today I am going to treat you to a float at the Big Dipper.’” 

But Merchant was just one of many tennis players who had a deep appreciation for the impact Joan had on their lives. Ann Harwood expressed her gratitude on a Facebook post that her son David Ramey made honoring his mother.

“Your mother was a very important person in my life, and not just because she and I love tennis,” Harwood said. “When I chose her tennis camp, it was because she was a woman. I was intrigued by her. In addition to my own mother, she was a role model for me on how to be your own person and that women could be leaders. Yes, she had her moments, but she earned my ever-lasting respect and love. I’m very sorry for your loss and mine. I love you, Mrs. Ramey.”

As Joan got older she became fond of horses, something she and her son David bonded over. She even began to help rehabilitate horses that were sick or injured, as well as teach and give horseback riding tours.

“Later when I became a veterinarian and she was in horses, we would have regular contact about a horse having a problem,” David Ramey said. “She would always want to know my opinion about what was going on with the horses, so I was happy to be able to give back to her that way.”

Joan was always striving for excellence, something that helped her learn how to motivate others as well. It was something that David particularly loved about his mother, as his greatest memories were those of her always pushing him to be the best in whatever it was he did.

In whatever capacity it was, it was evident that Joan had a passion for pushing and helping others grow. A former player and fellow lover of horses herself, Mallory Wagner-Leucht also shared her appreciation for the impact Joan had on her and so many others in her life.

“To know her was to respect her,” Wagner-Leucht said. “She didn’t give you any other choice. She was calculated and direct with her words. You could always depend on her for an honest opinion. Her ship ran tightly and if you wanted to be on it she was going to make sure you knew proper etiquette and manners as you did so. She was such an excellent instructor because she made you want to work harder to win her over.” 

July 3, 2022 | 12:08 am

Share this Article

Other articles you may like