Longtime 'ambassador' Susan Caruso to join Northam Park Tennis Wall of Fame

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

For nearly a half-century, the Northam Park Tennis Complex has been a second home to Susan Caruso.

Caruso, who moved to Upper Arlington in 1971 with her husband, Joe, after growing up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, found her way to the clay courts at Northam in 1974 and has been a fixture there ever since.

She has captained several women’s teams, and organized, run and umpired many tournaments at the complex and throughout the Columbus region.

Susan Caruso, a longtime tennis player and volunteer at Northam Park Tennis Complex, will be inducted into the Northam Park Tennis Wall of Fame on April 24.

She’s the current chair of the Northam Tennis Advisory Committee, a position she’s held for a total of seven years. She’s also organized social events around the game at the complex and is elated over the excitement her own children and others have experienced through tennis at the park.

“When I joined Northam in 1974, little did I realize that the clay that got into the soles of my shoes would become so ingrained in the soul of my heart,” Caruso said.

Caruso’s passion for tennis and her contributions to the game and the Northam Park Tennis Complex will be recognized from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 24 when she is inducted into the Northam Park Tennis Wall of Fame.

The wall was established in 2006 by the Northam Tennis Advisory Committee. Caruso will be the eighth inductee. A plate bearing her name will be permanently hung at the Northam Park Tennis Complex and she’ll be presented with a plaque in a ceremony that’s open to the public.

Other inductees are Ronald Scherer (2006), Jake Will Sr. (2007), Ken Thompson (2008), Dick Klitch (2010), Linda "Lin" Demos (2012), Geri Schlegel (2016) and Wayne Wookey (2017).

“Susan brings a love and passion for the sport of tennis,” said Debbie McLaughlin, Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation director. “She is genuine in her efforts to make Northam tennis the best facility and experience it can be for all players.

“Under her leadership, the Northam Park Tennis Advisory Committee has reinstated social activities and expanded youth programs, which has resulted in membership growth,” McLaughlin said. “Our team values her perspective and willingness to volunteer as needed to implement new ideas.”

Upper Arlington Recreation Superintendent Matt Leber called Caruso “a tremendous ambassador for tennis in Upper Arlington and the Northam Park tennis courts.”

“I am grateful for Susan’s passion for Northam tennis and its members,” Leber said.

Caruso was slated to be inducted into the Wall of Fame last spring until the COVID-19 pandemic – in the parlance of the game – poached that opportunity.

In its invitation to the public, the Parks and Recreation Department said Caruso “consistently cultivated positive working relationships with the community, with city leadership and the tennis staff.”

Even with a year to contemplate her induction, Caruso said she’s “pretty overwhelmed, honored and humbled” by her selection, particularly because she knows all the other inductees and their contributions to Northam tennis.

“It’s a place I dearly love,” she said. “It’s like my second home. It’s like a gem in the midst of our whole tennis community – in our city, our state.

“When you’re being recognized for something you love, what more can you ask?”

Now 76, Caruso developed a love of tennis as a teenager, despite there being no organized teams or tournaments afforded to girls.

Her brother, Denny, who was three years older, played and she said she loved playing or just mingling at the court near her parents’ home.

“The social aspect was huge,” Caruso said. “I didn’t take lessons when I was a kid. We would just hang out all day long.”

Over the years, Caruso also developed a love for the sport itself, in part because players can always hone parts of their game. She said she enjoys the mental aspect of playing, as well as the physical fitness it offers.

“I play mostly doubles now,” she said. 

Still, the camaraderie of the game and the magic she’s witnessed at Northam are what she reflects on more than any personal on-court feats.

She noted she's shared her love of the game with Joe, who plays and is well known as a go-to guy for stringing rackets.

Additionally, her daughter, Julie, 53, and son, Craig, 51, both grew up playing at Northam before competing for Upper Arlington High School.

Craig then went on to play at Miami (Ohio) University and Julie played at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

“The biggest thing has always been the people,” Caruso said. “The minute you walk through that gate you feel welcome. You feel welcome to play tennis, but you also feel welcome to a sense of community.”

In recent years, Caruso has sought to share that experience with as many people as she can. She’s reached out to share stories about activities and groups of players at the Northam Park Tennis Complex with local media.

She’s helped to organize “Fourth Fridays” and “Second Saturdays” events, in addition to pizza nights and Wimbledon kickoff parties, complete with strawberries and cream.

Wookey, who served as tennis pro manager at Northam from 1980-85 and who is vice chair of the Northam Tennis Advisory Committee, said Caruso brings a “quiet, reasonable and respected voice to the table” when it comes to “policies, procedures and issues of resource allocation.”

But he added that her enthusiasm for being around the game is palpable, and she’s constantly building community through the sport.

“Above all else, Susan values the lifelong friendships that are formed through playing tennis and being part of the social activities at Northam and the wholesome family atmosphere that exists at the facility as a result of those friendships,” Wookey said.

Norma Wagner, who’s served as the Northam Tennis Advisory Committee’s social and membership chair, said Caruso is a “skilled player of the game” who has dedicated her life to promoting tennis.

“In all of her volunteer positions, Susan has worked tirelessly to support tennis at Northam Park,” Wagner said. “Susan is an admired leader, as she interacts with others in a thoughtful, diplomatic and kind way.

“Susan appreciates the special gem the community has in Northam Park Tennis and through her actions, has consistently and lovingly supported tennis in Upper Arlington.”

Almost as if she’s awaiting a serve from across the net, Caruso shifts from one foot to the other and blushes when people like Wookey laud her, then she bounces the ball back to the people and sport she loves.

“I’ve seen so many kids grow up here,” she said. “Then you come in the morning and you see the older groups – you see people 4 to 90.

“I just love being at Northam. This is an exceptional sport.”  

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate