Sarver family matching funds spur transformation of Tucson J tennis center

Chuck Reisig, Tucson Jewish Community Center director of tennis, poses in a forklift prior to the removal of the tennis courts’ current surface. (Photo: Andrew Rosenfeld/Tucson Jewish Community Center)

The late Jack Sarver was an excellent tennis player. In fact, he started at the University of Michigan on a tennis scholarship, but his need to support his mother, three sisters and a brother made it impossible to continue his studies, says his daughter, Betty Anne Sarver.

When Jack, who became a prominent Tucson businessman and philanthropist, died in 1980, Sarver says, her mother, Irene, donated six courts to establish a tennis program at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.  In addition to honoring Jack’s memory, she says, her mother wanted to make that gift because “tennis is an easy sport for everyone to play. It doesn’t require a lot of money — it just requires a racquet.”

Irene Sarver died in 2015. Last summer, her son Robert and his wife, Penny Sarver, and Betty Anne, all of whom have continued Jack and Irene Sarver’s philanthropic legacy, learned that the tennis courts needed to be replaced.

They created a $300,000 matching gift so the Tucson J could not only replace the courts with state-of-the-art Laykold Masters surfaces, but also build a 1,200 square-foot tennis center that will include office space for the J’s tennis staff, a members’ lounge/meeting place, a covered patio, and two ADA-certified restrooms, according to an email the J sent to members.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity that this provides the J and the community at large,” says Todd Rockoff, the J’s president and CEO, expressing gratitude for “the generosity of the Sarvers and many other donors who’ve helped make that initial match.”

“Tennis has been an important part of what we do at the J,” he says, and he expects the J’s membership will grow as a result of the improvements to the Sarver Tennis Center.

Rockoff notes that Laykold Masters is the official surface of the Miami Open. It provides force reduction that is “kinder on your joints.”

“We’ve also used this opportunity to expand and enhance our program. So we’ve developed some strategic partnerships in the community to teach tennis to underserved and underprivileged children,” says Rockoff.

Along with the six tennis courts, the outdoor basketball court will be converted to a multi-sport court that can be used for teaching youth tennis, which requires smaller courts, as well as for pickleball and basketball games. This “will transform the Sarver Tennis Center into one of the really active and vibrant parts of the J,” Rockoff says.

The installation of the new courts is underway, and two courts should be available for play by April 8, with the remaining courts ready on May 6.

Rockoff, who was a competitive tennis player in middle and high school, says the new surface may even inspire him to get back on the court.

For Betty Anne, “The great thing about the J is that it serves the entire Tucson community. My parents strongly believed that when you live in a community and you take from a community, you must give back.” 

The J is continuing to accept donations toward the Sarver Tennis Center renovation. Contact Caitlin Dixon at 299-3000, ext. 176.