CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

Tennis as a second career

Posted Jan. 05, 2012, at 12:14 p.m.
Dean Armstrong and his dog, Chloe, at Bangor Tennis recently.
Dean Armstrong and his dog, Chloe, at Bangor Tennis recently. Buy Photo

Around Bangor, Dean Armstrong equals tennis. The owner and manager of Bangor Tennis on Mecaw Road in Hampden has been a fixture at the indoor tennis club for almost all 41 years of its existence — first as member, then manager and finally owner. His interest in tennis, however, was not a lifetime pursuit. Dean’s is one of those inspiring tales of someone who discovered something he loved and turned it into a successful second career — as positive for him as it is for all the people who play.

After growing up in Waterville, Dean went to Husson College in Bangor, where he joined Husson’s first-ever golf team in 1963 “… and I was the worst player on the team,” he said with his characteristic grin. After college, Dean took a job with Sears Roebuck as a central service manager and worked there for 31 years. At one point he had his own shop and 450 people working for him.

In March of 1993 Dean retired from Sears, but only three months later he took the job of manager at Bangor’s indoor tennis club.

Dean had been a member for 23 years (since there’s no golf in the wintertime), playing with friends in the evenings before going to the Ground Round to watch football. He took lessons and became increasingly more skilled and more interested in the sport.

Moving on to tennis as a second career was a natural evolution for Dean and a boon for eastern Maine tennis players.

In addition to teaching at the club and traveling as a rating judge for the U.S. Tennis Association, Dean coached Orono High School’s varsity team for 14 years until retiring in 2009. The Orono tennis program went from only 12 players in his first year to a high of 70 players before he retired. Dave Roberts, who took over for Dean two years ago, said, “I knew I had big shoes to fill.”

At an age Dean specifies only as “over 65,” he is still competing as a player in both men’s doubles (4.0) and mixed doubles. “Last year, my partner Amy Wright and I won all our matches at the 7.0 level. We’ll see how we do at 8.0 this year.”

One of the nicest things Dean has done for the tennis community is the warm atmosphere of friendly, relaxed fun that he has established in the club. It is a welcoming place for everyone… even dogs.

You don’t get Dean without his dog. First it was his faithful black lab, Sadie, who accompanied Dean to the club every day for 17 years, and even traveled to tournaments.

“Every tennis player in eastern Maine knew her,” he said. After Sadie was gone, he went to the Bangor Humane Society for a new lab, but there was an 11-year-old mixed-breed dog in a cage: “I went over to talk to her, and an hour and a half later I took her home.”

Now it’s Chloe who greets all comers to the club with a wagging tail or a wet nose. She naps under the tables in the First Serve coffee-cafe where people get a snack or a drink between games and scratch Chloe behind the ears.

“We had 150 dogs here once,” Dean said with pride. It was a Fly Ball Tournament, a dog-sporting event attended by dogs and their humans from all over New England and Canada.

Dog or human, the tennis club is a great place to be. Dean describes the love of tennis simply: “It’s fun, great exercise, healthy. … You can do it year-round with this indoor facility and keep doing it for a lifetime.

And you don’t need a dozen people … All you need is one other person, and you’re set to play and enjoy.”

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

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