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LibbyMt.com > News > February 2008 > Neils honored for service to tennis

Herb Neils. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Herb Neils
Neils honored for service to tennis
by Kootenai Valley Record
February 19, 2008

The man who taught Libby to play tennis is receiving national recognition for more than half a century of contributions to the sport.

Herb Neils will be honored with a Lifetime Service to Tennis award from the U.S. Tennis Association during a ceremony on March 3 in Las Vegas. The awards luncheon will be held in conjunction with the Association of Tennis Professionals Tennis Channel Open tournament.

Neils was born in Libby in 1926 to Walter and Alma Neils. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1944 to 1946, he attended the University of Montana in Missoula, where he played tennis under coach Jules Karlin.

He worked for the J. Neils Lumber Co., founded by his grandfather, from 1950 to 1960. In 1960 he acquired property on the north side of Libby where he built a racquet and swim club. Neils bought a bus and personally transported swim and tennis students to his facility and to neighboring communities for competitions.

From 1965 to 1975, Neils worked in partnership with Billie Jean King and Dennis Van Der Meer’s Tennis America Program, training at Lake Tahoe under the direct guidance of Van Der Meer (acclaimed as one of the world’s best tennis teachers), and became a certified teaching pro. Students from all across the United States came to Libby to participate in summer tennis programs.

From 1975 to 1995, Neils ran a nationally sanctioned tennis tournament in Libby. Players from all over the Pacific Northwest, northern California and Canada participated. The tournament was held annually during the third weekend in July.

While his wife Pat was on a teaching assignment for United States International University Kenya, Neils directed an international tennis tournament at the Nairobi Tennis Club in 1989-1990. While Pat taught history in another overseas assignment in Taiwan the following year, Herb was the tennis pro at the “American Club.”

Throughout this 20-year time period as well as before and after, Neils also competed in tournaments himself – and won many of them – in Montana, Washington, California, and Hawaii as well as in Canada and Mexico. For over three decades, Neils was unbeaten at the Montana Open in Missoula, retiring only when his age group became unable to compete with him any longer.

Over the past 50 years in Libby, Neils has given thousands of free tennis lessons and has provided tennis court use to the schools and for the community as a whole. Hundreds, if not thousands, of students have learned to play tennis at the Libby Racquet Club. Many have gone on to win tennis tournaments in Montana competitions, and tennis scholarships at various universities.

Herb and Pat now spend most of the year in Hawaii, where Pat teaches history at Leeward Community College, but continue to live in Libby during the summers. Herb has twice received certificates of appreciation from the mayor of Honolulu for his contributions in time and service to the Diamond Head Tennis facility. He has also worked in Hawaii as the tennis coach for the state champion Punahou High School team and taught tennis classes for the University of Hawaii at Leeward Community College.

Editor’s Note: See the February 18, 2008 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, on Monday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail kvrecord@gmail.com.

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