Friday, February 20, 2009

DeVito elected Ojai Tennis Club director emeritus

The Board of Directors of the Ojai Tennis Club is pleased to announce that it has elected Joe DeVito as a Director Emeritus.

DeVito and his wife, Mary, first came to Ojai in 1965. DeVito had served in the military in Japan, and after service, worked in the oil fields while he attended college. After college, he became a teacher. After one semester of teaching the in the LA area, he and Mary moved to Ojai, where he taught a grade four and five curriculum for three years at Topa Topa. During that time, he earned his graduate degree, and was appointed as principal of San Antonio School in 1968. Joe was elected to the Ojai City Council in 1986. He still serves, having won re-election six times, and is currently serving his fifth term as Mayor of Ojai.

Although not a tennis player, DeVito was active in sports, earning three varsity letters in basketball. DeVito relates a story from 1965, perhaps a premonition of what was to come. A business relation heard that Joe and Mary DeVito were moving to Ojai. The fellow said to DeVito, “That’s Arthur Ashe country.” DeVito told the man he had no idea who Arthur Ashe was, and so heard for the first time about the Ojai Tennis Tournament, and Ashe’s Pac-10 victory in 1965.

DeVito was recruited into the Ojai Tennis Club in 1967 by local tennis teacher Pedro Yanez, who asked DeVito to call lines at the Ojai Tennis Tournament. Although had never even attended a tennis tournament, he agreed, and undertook his assignment, armed only with the information that, “If it’s on the line its good, otherwise, it’s out.” DeVito found the work more difficult than he had anticipated, particularly when dealing with two Pac-10 players named Lutz and Smith. After two years on the courts, he opted to serve instead as the supervisor of the lines people.

His next assignment (whether it should be considered a "promotion" is unclear) was as Clean Up Committee chair. DeVito and his crew were responsible for breaking down the Tournament facilities, and storing the equipment for next year's Tournament. In this capacity, he developed procedures for better handling, maintenance and storage of the equipment, making it more functional and easier to handle. DeVito served in this capacity until 1993. His wife, Mary, has also been active with The Ojai®. She was appointed to the Board of Directors in the early 1970s, and served for almost 20 years. For many years, she was in charge of the court managers.

DeVito retired as principal of San Antonio School in 1992. By this time, based on his 25 years service to The Ojai®, his talents at organization and leadership skills were well recognized. Members of the Board of Directors, recognizing an opportunity, took DeVito to dinner, and convinced him that he should be the President of the Ojai Tennis Club for the following year. This was unusual, as DeVito was not a member of the Board of Directors, something now required by the Club by-laws. Consistent with his demonstrated commitment to community, DeVito agreed, and he was simultaneously elected as a member of the Board and President for the 1993 Tournament.

In his first year, the Tennis Club's finances were minimal, with no cash reserves. DeVito set about remedying this situation, by suggesting actions designed to increase the stature of the tournament. He recruited personnel in the sports field to find resources willing to support the Tournament. He was able to secure in-kind donations of a computer and copy machine, and recruited cash sponsors, as well, including many of today’s major sponsors. DeVito also negotiated a formal "official ball" agreement with Wilson, resulting in reduced costs and greater support for the Tournament. He also worked to expand the Thursday night barbeque, which now regularly serves over 250 people and has resulted in greater participation by members of the Ojai community. As sponsorship of the tournament grew, so did the club reserves. The strong financial health of the tennis club today is directly attributable to DeVito's efforts during those years.

During DeVito's five-year term as President, and continuing today, he is probably best known for his "people skills." He helped recruit more volunteers to assist with the Tournament, as the numbers were dropping and replacements hard to find. He began the era of the "town hall" type monthly board meetings, encouraging anyone interested to attend the meetings, to generate enthusiasm for the tournament. He promoted the volunteer potluck and social socials to recognize and thank volunteers for their service. He pioneered the "Lifetime Pass" for special contributors. He visited all the venues during the tournament, including those outside of the valley, to encourage those volunteers and make sure they felt part of The Ojai®. One year, when Wilson provided straw hats, DeVito distributed them to board members and committee chairs. Those hats can still be seen today at the tournament.

DeVito stepped down as President after the 1997 tournament, because of the press of his duties as a city councilman, but continued to serve on the board until 2008, providing invaluable guidance, support, and liaison with the city. His resignation was due in part to efforts by the tennis club to reduce the size of the board, as well as his belief that he could better serve the tennis club while on the city council without the potential for any conflict of interest.

DeVito says some of the most gratifying feelings for the tournament come when he meets players who competed here. He tells of an encounter with a young woman in Florida when Joe and Mary were checking out of their hotel. DeVito was wearing an Ojai T-shirt, and the woman commented on that, telling DeVito that she had competed here while in college. That kind of respect for our Big Time tournament in this small town means more to DeVito than personal accolades, and serves as a reminder of the caliber of the annual tournament.

DeVito's heart is still with the Ojai Tennis Club and the annual Ojai Tennis Tournament, and he will be a constant and welcome presence in Libbey Park. DeVito has, by his hard work and dedication through over 40 years of service, earned the respect and admiration of everyone associated with the club and the tournament, and has been recognized as a Director Emeritus.