Mary Vassar Excited for Retirement
Longtime USTA St. Louis Executive Director Mary Vassar started her USTA career as a volunteer in the late 1990s by entering all the mailed-in league scores on a DOS computer.
“That’s how far back it goes,” Vassar said with a laugh. “That was really fun.”
Thus began a distinguished career spanning four different decades that is culminating with Vassar’s retirement on October 29, 2021. Vassar agreed to continue in her role as long as needed to properly train a replacement, staying true to the end to her serve-oriented nature.
Vassar’s older sister, Marty Durham-Olley, planned to retire at the end of this year but passed away in the spring.
“It just hit me that time is precious,” Vassar said. “That’s really the only reason I’m leaving is just to have more time.”
Vassar plans to take advantage of that additional time to — no surprise — play more tennis. She also wants to play golf, which she’s had little availability for, travel and spend more time volunteering. She has a long list of tasks to complete at home and said she is “not anxious about retirement at all” with plenty to do and plenty of people to do it with.
“My favorite part about working with USTA St. Louis is all the people I’ve been able to meet and all the friends I’ve made through tennis,” Vassar said. “The best part of the job is the people. When the phone rings, you never know what somebody is going to want, say, ask or an idea they’re bringing to us.”
Vassar became the USTA St. Louis league coordinator in 1999 before progressing to executive director in 2006. During the past 15 years with Vassar at the helm, USTA St. Louis has evolved exponentially in multiple areas.
One of Vassar’s favorite accomplishments is also one of the most recent, as the USTA St. Louis became operating manager of the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park earlier this year. Vassar spoke with excitement about the District’s “wonderful addition.” She is looking forward to improvements that will be made to the historic facility.
“I’ve been around for 22 years. Over that time, we’ve seen tremendous growth in leagues, Junior Team Tennis and our grant funding to community programs,” Vassar said. “That’s really rewarding. I’ve been very pleased with the growth and direction the District has taken.”
After beginning her USTA career as a volunteer, Vassar said she’ll be willing to help run adult tournaments as needed in retirement. She will serve as vice chair of the USTA Missouri Valley adult competition committee in 2022.
“I don’t necessarily think I’m the smartest or best person in the world. But I think I do a good job in having a great staff,” Vassar said. “Having a good staff has always been important to me. I feel like we’ve always been able to do that. We have fabulous people and a terrific Board of Directors. I’m leaving the District in really good hands.”
USTA St. Louis asked members of its Board of Directors the following questions: (1) What has been Mary Vassar’s impact and what will be her legacy? And (2) What has Mary meant to you personally? Do you have a favorite memory or story involving Mary? Here are their responses:
John Kelly, USTA St. Louis President
Mary’s impact and legacy on St. Louis tennis is immeasurable. She is the only executive director many players and families have known. Mary’s overriding goal was to make tennis fun for our players. All the hard work and toil behind the scenes in setting up league schedules and tournament schedules/draws was what she and the staff did in order for tennis to be fun for players. The players only had to show up and play. Mary’s team made the behind-the-scenes work a nonissue or concern.
A major emphasis for Mary was adult tournament play. She worked tirelessly on making tournaments available for adults both inside and outdoors. Mary is also passionate about recognizing players. The annual awards process was one of her favorite times of the year. There could never be enough awards to thank all our players, volunteers and member organizations for all they do to make tennis fun and grow tennis in St. Louis.
To me personally, Mary has been a rock. She is always upbeat, friendly and hopeful. Mary has a positive outlook and tries to find the bright spots in every situation. You can always count on Mary. I have two favorite stories about Mary. They exemplify her passion:
1. Mary was tournament director for an event at a clay-court facility. We were paying for the courts. She visited and saw the courts needed some TLC. She proactively obtained salt and had it applied to the courts before matches.
2. During Covid, we were forced to cancel the annual awards dinner. We still selected award winners and notified them digitally. Mary, however, wanted to do more. So, she organized and pulled off a virtual awards presentation. Each award winner had a brief video presentation getting their award and making a speech. Mary organized all the videos and published them on the website. She went above and beyond to make the award special to each winner, even during Covid.
Jason Mathes, USTA Missouri Valley Board President
Mary is an amazing and generous person. While I firmly believe God has blessed all of us by putting Mary on this planet, it should also be noted He has been particularly good to those of us lucky enough to grow the game of tennis alongside her.
Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with her since joining the board for USTA St. Louis in 2011. During that time, I quickly discovered Mary possesses not only a kind disposition, but a keen understanding of how to get things done. She knows how to lead a team, how to create a healthy culture and find ways to excel in difficult situations. Mary’s dedication to excellence and commitment to her community have made her perfectly suited to handle the job of executive director during her career. But most importantly and above all else, Mary is a generous and beautiful soul who understands what it means to give. She exemplifies what it means to serve the game, our partners, customers and those in need.
Dan Apted, former colleague
When Mary was named executive director, she was following an old-school era and a very focused, gritty competitive director. I truly believe Mary embraced all the good already happening from her predecessors and gently expanded the circle of supporters to help her grow the office and St. Louis tennis community.
To me, Mary’s legacy was she cared what people said and how they felt. She did everything in her power to make positives happen. I respect Mary for her continuous positive attitude and believing the most important thing in tennis is having fun. My favorite story will be — after her retirement — I see her enjoying tennis for herself with her friends. That’s the best story anyone can have.
Beth Causey, USTA Missouri Valley Board Member and former USTA St. Louis President
I have known and played tennis with Mary for nearly 10 years and have the honor of knowing her on many levels — as a teammate, tennis partner, dear friend and professionally in my position as a USTA District board member. It was amazing how we could change our roles. One minute we might be laughing as we talked about a match. And then we would change course to discuss USTA District business. Mary is a true professional.
Being on the court with Mary is always a joy. She is so respected that our opponents always display their best. I tell her we will have a nice, gracious match because she is Mary Vassar — everyone plays to impress. I always love to have Mary on the teams I captain. She is the ultimate team player. She will help the team in any way possible. She plays singles if needed. She allows others to play if she feels she is not the best fit for the match. She plays last minute if needed. Overall, she is a top player and gets results. Mary is a great role model on and off the court. She is a great example of good sportsmanship, a team leader and great player. She is gracious in every role. I am lucky to have experienced every aspect of USTA with her — leagues, tournaments, playoffs. We have had the honor to go to districts, sectionals and Nationals. I am so grateful to share that with her. I’m excited for her as she embarks on her retirement because we can play more tennis.
Mary Buschmann, USTA Missouri Valley Executive Director
Mary has been such a force in St. Louis tennis over the years. She has such passion for the game and getting people engaged. Mary is a great communicator, and she is always listening. You can’t have the success of growth the District has experienced without being compassionate, inclusive, fair and a good listener.
Mary and I have a long, fun history together. We have some great memories of entering scorecards at Section League Championships until the early-morning hours, back in the day of verifiers and paper reports. Mary is a fabulous ambassador for tennis. I’m confident she will continue in that role while still enjoying all her time on the court. While we will miss her daily interaction, Mary won’t be far from the tennis court.
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