On a recent morning, only days after their club's 30th anniversary celebration, Tennis and Fitness Centre's Steve and Laurie Berggren were gregariously doling out commemorative T-shirts to the Centre's tennis-playing rank and file.
Their hope was that this minor marketing milestone would come to the attention of a few new tennis enthusiasts interested in batting around a ball in one of eight indoor tennis courts at the over 58,000-square-foot fitness facility at 301 Lake street in Oak Park.
Built in 1972, the block-long building popped with tennis for years until the first owners ran out of steam. Then, says Steve, TFC's longtime general manager, another business group stepped up and ran the club "as is," but only offering indoor play from September through May, no summers.
By May of 1983 those owners announced they were going belly up, and not planning to reopen at all, which was unsettling and unacceptable for local tennis buffs.
"Some people were a little upset with that news, so a group of over 30 families [from Oak Park and River Forest] got together — almost all of them were tennis players — and they said, 'OK, we will pool our money and reopen the club,'" recalls Steve, whose parents, Al and Jean, are part of the ownership group. They wanted to see how long they could keep it going, thinking it was a great thing to do for the community, so that is when they pooled their money, and they have kept it afloat for 30 years."
Years later, in spite of changing times, tennis here is still in gear, with fitness as an amenity, thanks to Laurie, Steve's spouse, and TFC's fitness director.
Currently over 3,000 members and guests utilize the club. Membership rates are $61 a month for an individual, $99 per couple, and $110 for a family, he says.
"We are called a private club, but we are always open for new members, and people can come into the facility as a guest, but the perk of being a member is enjoying full usage of the club," says Berggren, a fourth generation Oak Parker.
To support the crowds, their staff has grown to 67. Four of his "favorites," he says, have special needs, and work there through their affiliations with vocational programs at Oak Leyden Developmental Center and Oak Park and River Forest High School.
On the business side, fitness pro Laurie has been diligently developing "wellness" programming that required converting four of the original six racquetball and handball courts into fitness studios. A portion of the lobby and a former racquetball court have become busy Spinning and Cardio theaters, she says.
Other program upgrades are the addition of a Pilates studio, TRX suspension training, a "hall of props" and a yoga studio at 256 Lake St.
Still, their heart and soul is tennis, with booming house leagues and traveling teams as well as private and group lessons.
"Some of our permanent court time players have been in the same groups since our club began," Steve says.
When tennis pro John Morlidge joined the TFC team 30 years ago, he says "there wasn't an official club program, although there may have been a few leagues" and he was the only pro on staff. Now he leads a team of instructors, and "tennis is just huge," he says.
"People of all ages and abilities are taking lessons all day from 6 in the morning to 10 at night because with tennis," Morlidge says, "as long as you can still walk around, you can still play tennis, and if you have a bad shoulder, you can serve underhand. Your friends won't care. They just want to be out there with you. It's the enjoyment of the exercise, the mental part of thinking through strategies and just the camaraderie. It really develops all those different things."
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