Recently celebrating her 82nd birthday, Joyce Lewis is still playing tennis. She is a member of Manker Patten Tennis Club on Douglas Street.
Born in Livingston, Tn., Joyce lived in the country until she was seven. “My father hated farming so we came to Chattanooga, where he learned to be a machinist,” Joyce says. Joe McCulley brought his wife Belle, son Sherman and daughter Joyce to Chattanooga in 1937. Joe worked at Samuel Stamping and Enameling, a company of Roper Corporation/General Electric in North Chattanooga.
“I remember my father shooting a poisonous snake on the porch and hit him in right in the head,” Joyce says. That must be where Joyce gets her good aim for tennis. “I loved being outdoors and l loved nature. When I was a teenager, we used to borrow a racquet and balls and go down between the bridges where Coolidge Park is now. There were two real, red clay courts - that is where we started playing; we didn’t even know how to keep score,” Joyce laughs.
When she was a young girl, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for girls to play sports. “There weren’t many opportunities for kids period – you just played until you were old enough to get a job,” Joyce attests. “I liked to play in the woods.”
Joyce wanted to be a gym teacher when she grew up, which echoes her active lifestyle that she has always maintained.
Her first job was at Loveman’s. “I played on their softball team; there was an industrial league,” Joyce says.
In1953 she married Jim Lewis and they have been married for 59 years. The couple have three daughters - Peggy Lewis, Jeanne Birch and Nancy Vernon.
Joyce’s career was mostly being a stay-at-home mom, though she was a secretary at TVA for seven years. “I was a Girl Scout leader and participated in all the school functions,” she says.
With her love for the outdoors and nature, Joyce has had a full life of staying on the go.
“I am a master gardener; I worked with Sue Chamberlain (director of marketing and communications at Manker Patten) at Moccasin Bend, when we had a project down there. I helped her when they started landscaping this place,” she says, referring to the club. “She was the brains of it all I just helped.”
Mrs. Lewis volunteers at the Tennessee Aquarium in the butterfly garden every other Thursday.
Other hobbies have included hiking and biking. “I can’t do those anymore. I had hiked with the Wednesday hiking group here for years until my knees gave out. I went on hiking trips with my daughter Peggy. We went to a lot of the national parks until she decided she wanted to backpack - I had to bow out of that,” Joyce laughs.
Joyce presents a thin magazine and says, “This is a catalogue, called ‘Back Country’ that we traveled with - that was a really fun time in my life. They featured me in the catalogue because they wanted people to know that persons over 50 could do that – and I was in my sixties at that time,” Joyce says, proudly.
She also enjoyed biking. “There was a small group formed from the hiking club. We rode Chickamauga Battlefield for years until I couldn’t keep up anymore. We went on trips too – went on the Virginia Creeper Trail. We rode about 34 miles from White Top Mountain. It was a rail trail where the railroad went down the mountain and they constructed the trail down the railroad tracks,” Joyce says. She also went on a paved biking trail called the Comet Trail near Atlanta.
As active as Joyce has been all of her life, it was about being social as much as the activity itself.
Her love for tennis is a lot about being with friends and being around people. “I didn’t start playing tennis regularly until my children got up in grammar school. We joined Stuart Heights Swim Club and they had two courts. That’s when I started playing more. We did team tennis and USTA tournaments,” Joyce recalls.
“I came here (Manker Patten) after all my kids got out of college. The reason I joined was because they had soft courts and no one around here had soft courts. The rubico courts - that’s what I like.” She pauses and says, “I guess I remembered those really old red clay courts. I bet not many people remember those courts.”
Manker Patten’s facility is opulent in tennis tradition of national and Southern champions, Hall of Fame members and hosting major tennis tournaments. Manker Patten Tennis Club is viewed as one of the most prominent clubs in the South.
Joyce has gone to USTA Senior Tournaments in Knoxville and also played in the Senior Cup for several years. “Louise Cash got up those tennis teams, so we went every year,” Joyce says. “The last two years I haven’t been because my knees are worn out and I can’t run very well. I have tendonitis in my shoulder so I don’t serve very well - I am not tournament material now,” she laughs.
Joyce has been a member at the YMCA for 25 years. “I go there when I don’t play tennis. They have a wonderful class called Silver Sneakers. I try to stay in the other classes because you get a little more, but I’m fast falling into staying in that class,” she laughs. “It is fun and everyone is so friendly. It’s a social thing as much as anything,” Joyce insists.
“Tennis is social. One good thing about tennis is; you can play up until later years – for as long as you can walk!”