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The Kraut Legend

October 31, 2007 06:13 PM

Ellie Kraut has been matchmaking for so long that she could easily rival Dolly Levi.  The title character in Hello Dolly arranged marriages, and although Kraut does have a few marriages to her credit, her unique, one-of-a-kind business is arranging tennis matches and teaching tennis.


Kraut loves what she does so much that the Boxwood Tennis Program, named after Kraut’s ten-acre estate in Ewing, hardly seems like a business to her. It was launched some 40 years ago, and it sort-of just happened. As a Princetonian who inherited the love of sport from her late father, Kraut won numerous singles and doubles titles as a teen and later as an adult with various family members as partners.


After graduating from Smith College, where she excelled in softball, Kraut reconnected with tennis and the Trenton YWCA’s activities director asked her to volunteer time to set up a tennis program for them. Soon after, individuals started calling her directly and that was the beginning of her tennis program. To this day, Kraut has never advertised yet has a full schedule that fills most of her days, all from word of mouth and referrals.


“Over the years I have taught  hundreds of people from all walks of life, and I’m even seeing their  next generation. I spent several  years teaching tennis for the Ewing Adult School, but my true passion has been those I’ve worked with on my own court. I take pride in seeing players improve their skills and have fun on the court in friendly competition. My greatest talent seems to be in matching people according to abilitites and congeniality.”


Boxwood is a much quieter place now than it was when Kraut and her late husband, Irving, an orthodontist and golfer-turned tennis player, moved to Boxwood from Lawrence with seven of an eventual nine kids in tow. They put a tennis court in their new home right away, and all nine learned to play tennis there. The estate also became home to numerous animals – there were horses, a goat, sheep, and even a monkey. And there was no need for this crew to join Little League baseball teams – they  had their own build-in team. They inherited a love of sports, and all became good tennis players and athletes. Her 26 grandchildren, and even some daugher-in-laws, are following suit. The kids still compete within the family, looking for that number one Kraut family ranking.          


Robin, the oldest child, lives in Israel and teaches water aerobics. Jon was the most driven player of the bunch – played for UNC and once won the Cryan Tournament. Bruce became an outstanding squash player, and Karen is a marathon runner. Leslie was captain of her tennis team at Lafayette, and Eric lives in California and is currently ranked nationally in his age group. Gary, a writer and tour guide, plays tennis and spends a lot of time in Paris. Robert plays league tennis in Florida, and Wendy, a former Mercer County High School tennis champion, is playing golf  in Florida.


“We  had a wonderful life together – there are so many good memories here,” remembers Kraut, as an intense sadness comes over her. Just a year-and-a-half ago, Jon was tragically killed in an airplane crash with his wife and all three of his young children. When tragedy struck, the family and all Kraut’s players rallied around to offer support and friendship.


“This has helped me personally. I feel I’m giving to others, and my players to me, in so many ways. I try not to let myself get too sad. You never know about life.”


Kraut’s current students range from 7-82 and many have been with her for 40 years. She’s always close to a phone, e-mail, and a calendar - scratching names off, adding in, catering as best she can to people’s schedules. They play through December, and Kraut does whatever it takes to have the court ready – getting up at 4 am to squeegee the courts or shovel snow.


“They like it here. I’m considerate of the time they are available. I try to match them into a congenial competitive situation. I provide the balls. I treat them with respect,” said Kraut, who spends the winter months in Florida with Wendy. “I make it easy for them. They don’t have to pay in advance, and there’s no series of lessons. Most of my students don’t know each other but they become friends. A lot of love and friendships were found at Boxwood. I’m committed to what I do.”


Kraut’s children are just as proud of she as she is of them. Said son Eric, “She taught her husband how to play, taught all of her children, much of the community and then their children and some of their children’s children. She taught us not just to play tennis to compete but as a social tool and for staying in shape for your whole life.”


“It’s the Kraut legend,” he adds.


(reprinted from Ann LoPrinzi's 9/23/07 Trenton Times tennis column)