In my previous post, I introduced you to Alan Klaus, a fellow whose life narrative would take him to Kansas City, the town where Brian would encounter the trauma of becoming a paraplegic. Here I introduce you to one Jim Pfeffer, who along with Alan, would become an integral part of, and give meaning to, Brian’s life narrative. Here’s the continuation of chapter three of my book:
About 663 miles northeast of Beatrice, Nebraska lies Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, known for its construction of World War II submarines. There, one Jim Pfeffer began his trajectory in tennis in 1964 when his mother, thinking he needed more to do in the summers, signed him up for four tennis lessons. She had no clue, of course, that nudging her twelve-year-old to play the sport would ultimately result in a passionate tennis pro, whose commitment to the person holding the tennis racquet was just as important as teaching him how to play—whether on his feet or in a wheelchair.
Jim enjoyed sports but tennis was not first on the list when he was a kid. He loved basketball and football—he was crazy enough to go the epic battle at Lambeau Field between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys in 1967, a game that would be dubbed “the Ice Bowl” because of the game time’s temperature of -15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill of -48. I just can’t wrap my head around that . . .
Four tennis lessons. That’s right, FOUR. That’s all the twelve-years-old needed to eventually become a beloved club tennis pro. You see, Jim was a visual learner: He regularly ran home from high school, bought M&Ms and KitKat at the corner store, and then situated himself near the school’s tennis courts to watch the high school team play. That was enough for the candy lover to start teaching the game at a rec center in Manitowoc when he was sixteen. From there, the shy kid (scarred for life after attending the Ice Bowl?) grew into a confident young man who never looked back. While in college he coached summer camps all over the country, including a couple of summers at Hotchkiss, the elite prep school in Connecticut. Tennis was booming in the U.S. and Jim was caught up in it, at one very memorable point getting to meet Arthur Ashe in 1968, the U.S. Open Champion that year.
Jim moved to Kansas City in 1976 with his first wife. After a traumatic divorce, “the lowest part of my life,” his life blossomed. On the personal side, he married again, 2016 marking thirty years of marriage to his wife, Jane. And he has four grandchildren to boot. On the professional side, soon after he arrived in KC he landed a job with the Barry Brooke Tennis Club and taught there for seventeen years. Once in a while, he saw this fellow Alan Klaus on the courts. The guy was pretty good. Jim didn’t coach Alan—he didn’t need coaching—but he saw him now and then at the club’s social functions. “Hey, Alan.” “Hey, Jim.”
Jim Meets the Roadrunner
In 1996, most of Barry Brooke’s members, including Alan, left for the newly-built Northland Racquet Club, with Jim as the head tennis pro. Soon after setting up shop there, Jim started a “hit and run” clinic on Saturday mornings. One morning, a fellow by the name of Brian McMillan showed up to play. “He was like a road runner. He ran down everything.”
And then the road runner disappeared . . .