I only recently met Howard Kuntz, although I had been seeing his name in tennis literature while doing research about Nehemiah Atkinson. Allie Ritzenberg and his wife Peggy were visiting family in the New Orleans area. Allie, the tennis professional for many years at St. Albany’s in Washington D. C., and Howard had played as doubles partners in national tennis tournaments. They were meeting for lunch and I was invited to join them at the Superior Grill Seafood restaurant. While eating our meal the conversation was delightful, informative and very enjoyable. Both Howard and Allie are the same age, 94. Both as we say, are “sharp as a tack.”
So, I immediately asked Howard if he would agree to an interview for the New Orleans City Park Tennis Club website. He graciously agreed.
Following is the Interview:
Q. How old were you when you began playing tennis?
A. I was 57 years of age. We had a condo over in Diamond Head, and I had started playing on the courts there. The Club announced that a doubles tennis tournament was being held and I should enter. I had never played in a tournament, but they said it was just going to be a lot of fun. So, I asked Don Frilot to be my partner. He was # 3 in the South in 35’s, and a very good player. We won the tournament. Playing with Don made me realize I did not know how to play well. I remember one time I served and came to the net and put the ball away. Don said, “what did you do?” I said,” heck, that’s what you did.” So I told myself I needed to learn how to play better. I started taking lessons and playing more tennis.
Q. What was you first tennis racquet?
A. A John Newcombe wooden racquet
Q. Where did you grow up? What schools did you attend, including college?
A. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. My mother was from New Orleans and my father was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My family moved to Milwaukee when I was a young boy. I attended grade school and high school there. While growing up there I was actively involved in the local YMCA. I participated in gymnastics and swimming. In fact, one year I won the State Championship in swimming.
After graduating, my grandmother in New Orleans gave me free room and board where I could attend Tulane University. At that time, 1936, the tuition was $353 per semester. I really enjoyed my college days. I joined the Glee Club, was a cheerleader, and was the “Chiclets gum man,” going around campus passing out free chewing gum. This made me very popular. I also was a motion picture model, which paid $5 a day. In 1941, I was two hours short of graduating because I had changed my major from history to business. I took a night class in Income Tax Accounting to graduate with a B.B.A. and then enter Law School for one year. Then, World War II began. I went into the Army and never went back to Law School.
Q. Share with us your experiences in the military?
A. I started down at the Port of Embarkation near Poland Street in New Orleans as a 2nd Lieutenant. We loaded the ships up on the Mississippi River. I was in charge and responsible for 14 wharfs. I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and then went overseas and was assigned to an ammunition jetty in Iran at the Port of Korsar on the Persian Gulf. When I arrived there they were still building the wharfs. They had no wood so they brought in teakwood from India. We would unload unassembled trucks and steam engines among other supplies off the American ships. After they were assembled, they were used to supply the Russian troops. Train tracks and roads existed all the way to Russia. I was stationed there for a year and a half. Then they assigned me the job of setting up three desert camps and running convoys from Bagdad to Tel-Aviv, Palestine. American troops on leave would arrive in Bagdad by train; we would convoy them, using 20 trucks, to Tel-Aviv. It was a 2 and a half- day trip. The desert camps were used for stopovers. The trucks would be refueled and we would spend the night. The first camp out of Bagdad was Rutbad, Iraq and the second camp was Mafraq, Trans-Jordan. When we crossed the Jordan River the troops would wade in the river. On the return trip we stopped at the Dead Sea. The soldiers would “float” in the Dead Sea because it was so salty. We would also stop at the Roman ruins in Amman, Jordan.
Then I came back from overseas and was stationed in Virginia. There I was promoted to Major. While stationed in Virginia I started courting my future wife, Beatrice, who lived in New York. On New Years Eve we were engaged, and on June 1, we got married. In September I was discharged and we moved down to New Orleans. I went into the Reserves and was made the Operations Office at the Port of Importation and was promoted to Lt. Colonel.
I then attended the Command and General Staff War College and was promoted the Full Colonel. Four years later I received a letter stating that I fell in the zone of consideration for General.
Q. What was your career after retiring from the military?
A. I handled Industrial Land (leasing and sales) for the Harvey Canal Land and Improvement Company. I retired at 70 years of age as Chairman of the Board.
Q. Please share with us some of the “highlights” of your tennis career?
A. Won the World’s Doubles Championship in the 85’s with partner Irving Converse in Philadelphia. There were 27 countries represented there.
Won the USTA Doubles Clay Court Championship 80’s with Nehemiah Atkinson of New Orleans in Pinehurst, defeating Gardnar Mulloy and Dave Carey.
Won the USTA Doubles Grass Court Championship 80’s with Allie Ritzenberg over Gardnar Mulloy and Dave Carey at the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, MA.
Q. Place of Worship?
A. St. Timothy United Methodist Church
Q. Who was the best tennis player you ever played against?
A. Nehemiah Atkinson. I was only able to defeat him two times in all the tournaments we played in. We played doubles as partners for over 15 years. I might add that Nehemiah was “ such a true gentleman.” Whenever he played, everyone realized what a high man he was. He was a “model” for others. He had a lot of challenges at that time to overcome, but he did not let things stand in his way; he overcame them. We played very well together and were very successful. If I missed a shot, he would say “ don’t worry about that, that ball is gone. Lets get the next one.” He was a model partner, what a partner should be. At tournaments the players would say, “ I hope I don’t have to play Atkinson from New Orleans.”
Q. Are you still actively playing tennis? Where?
A. Yes I am. I play on the courts at Franco’s and play inside at the Beau Chene tennis facility, both located in Mandeville, Louisiana. I am ranked #2 in the 90’s bracket. I have not been traveling to compete the last couple of years due to my wife’s declining health. I wanted to be near her. She passed away this year.
Q. As we conduct this interview we are sitting in the office of your home in Mandeville, Louisiana. As I look around at the pictures of your family and all the tennis related pictures, medals, trophies, and plaques, it is more like a museum. You have been quite successful in USTA events as well as the National Senior Olympics. What are some of your accomplishments?
A. I have four Gold Balls and one silver ball so far. National Championships are held every two years.
Two National Championships in 75’s Doubles with B. L. Como in the Senior Olympics.
Finalist in 75’s Singles
National Champion in 80’s Singles
Q. What has the game of tennis meant to you?
A. It has been a challenge competing against former college tennis players and teaching professionals.
Q. I love you Louisiana customized automobile license plate. Please share with us what it is?