"Iím sort of the restless type," she says.
A modest understatement from the athlete United States Tennis Association Magazine calls the second-best 80-and-over female player in the country. Every year Read competesóand usually places near the topóin three of the four USTA senior tournaments. (She normally misses the winter tournament, clay court, because it conflicts with her downhill skiing plans.) In September, Read and her partner won the doubles in the Senior Olympics.
"Iíve always loved sports," she says. "My father was a squash champion and my mother was a state tennis champion. They encouraged me to play all sports, especially tennis, from the time I was little."
At Bryn Mawr she competed in field hockey, swimming, basketball and baseball and captained the tennis team. Her proudest moment during those years was making it to the NCAA semifinals with her doubles partner, Nancy Norton í42, who is in the New England Tennis Hall of Fame.
After graduating, Read joined other Bryn Mawrters and moved to Washington DC to make maps for what was then called the Army Air Corps: "We became photogrammetric engineers. Thatís the only time Iíve been an engineer in my life. It was very good training for a history of art major, because you had to be so exact." After the war she became a mapmaker for Harvardís geography department. She and her husband moved to Milwaukee, her hometown, in 1954, to take over the familyís department store; there they have lived ever since.
At age 55, Read got her pilotís license and glider rating in between three Himalayan expeditions. The first two expeditions were unsuccessful because of bad weather, but the third, for which she served as base camp manager at 16,000 feet, was a success. "Iím an avid mountain climber," she says. She has climbed extensively in Europe and has scaled the Matterhorn. At age 70, Read won the world cross-country skiing championship for her age group, in Finland.
In 1999, the Wisconsin Tennis Association presented Read with the Bill Letwin Award in recognition of her achievement, dedication and service to the game. She is credited with starting indoor tennis in Milwaukee ("and maybe in all of Wisconsin, Iím not sure") when, in the 1950s, she convinced the commander of a downtown armory to let her and a group of about 150 women use the facility during the week to play tennis: "We called ourselves The Raqueteers. The army moved their trucks out of the way, and we swept the concrete floor, painted lines and installed removable posts and nets. The lighting wasnít very good and the balls got dirty, but at least we had a place to play in the winter."
Read is now teaching herself how to row shells, "but Iím trying to keep up my tennis, so the rowing is just a hobby. Youíre supposed to take up something new as you get older, so...."
Sports havenít been the only things keeping Read busy. In 1982, she and her husband helped found Bat Conservation International, which now claims 14,000 members. From 1985 to 1989 she helped establish the National Park of American Samoa, ending a four-year battle there to save endangered bats and the tropical rain forest. "Bats pollinate much of the rain forest," explains Read. Commercial hunting of flying foxes, which can have a six-foot wingspan, was causing an alarming decline in their population. The United States now has a 50-year lease on the park, the only leased national park and the only tropical rain forest national park in the United States, with the exception of a small tract in Puerto Rico. "We feel very happy," Read says. "The park has beautiful blue coral beaches and retains the rain forest in its natural, undisturbed state."
Read also serves on the board of Lawrence University in Appleton WI. She is closely involved with the Marion Chester Read Milwaukee Area Girl Scout Center and the Girl Scout Camp named for her mother, Alice Miller Chester í14. Currently, she is very busy teaching 12 grandchildren how to play tennis.
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