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Anne Craney Olson

                                    By Jamie Volin


Anne Craney Olson, Sioux Falls native and one of the top players in South Dakota in the 1960’s and 70’s, is a 2013 inductee into the SD Tennis Hall of Fame.  With over 100 trophies in her tennis memories, highlights in adult tennis include  a 1968 SD Closed singles title and four Closed doubles championships.

 Her most success in doubles came with Pam Gefke and Lu Holwerda, two other SD Tennis Hall of Famers.  Anne teamed with Gefke to win the Closed in 1966 and 1967 and with Lu, won the Closed in 1972 and 1975.  Then Anne added doubles titles in the SD Open with Holwerda three straight years, starting in 1974.  

 McKennan Park sired many tennis champions, and  Craney lived a block  from the tennis courts.  In the early 60’s, there was no state high school girls’ tennis competition and only limited collegiate women’s tennis.  But that didn’t stop a young St. Mary grade school girl from competing in the summer city tennis program, taught by legendary tennis greats, Don Grebin and John Simko. 

  Later, as an instructor in the park program herself, Anne recalls showing youngster Randy Kochenderfer (an eventual top junior player in the state and star at Augustana College) how to hold a racquet.

 Inspired by Gefke (who lived a few doors down on 5th Avenue,  Anne started competing at age twelve in local and regional tennis tournaments.  Anne enjoyed a great deal of success and was ranked #2 in the girls’ age divisions for five years in the Northwestern Tennis Association.  The NWTA comprised the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Wisconsin.  A high year end ranking meant that Anne was one of the top players in the tri-state area. 

  Anne represented South Dakota  at national tennis tournaments held at Rice University in Houston, Texas in 1965 and at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida in 1966.  South Dakota could only send two  players to compete in the girls’ eighteen and under division.  The other player was the very athletic Marci Wernli.  Together they played doubles at the nationals,  as well as singles.

 South Dakota didn’t sanction girls’ high school tennis as a sport until 1969 so Anne and Marci didn’t have a chance to compete at the South Dakota State High School Tournament.  Suffice it to say, that Anne, who graduated from Sioux Falls O’Gorman in 1966, and Marci, a Washington High School grad, would have lead their respective schools to some terrific matches.

 Anne went on to the University of South Dakota and worked out with the men’s’ tennis team that was being coached by Hall of Famer  Fred Fischer.  Not having a women’s’ tennis team, Anne and Stuart Clayton (another excellent Sioux Falls girls tennis player) became cheerleaders for the USD Coyotes football and basketball teams.

 After high school and college, Anne continued to play competitive tennis in the women’s’ ranks.  Partnering with Gefke, Holwerda, Chi Chi Walstad and her younger  sister, Jeannie Craney,  Anne won her share of tournaments.  While living in Aberdeen, she won a singles title  in the CC Lee tournament.   In addition, Anne and her mixed doubles partner, tennis pro Ron York, found success playing mixed double events in the Minneapolis area.

 Unfortunately, in the spring of 1985, her adult playing career was cut short by an “unexplained myelopathy”, a paralysis from her neck down.  For three years, Anne couldn’t feel or move a thing.  Her husband, Wayne and family nursed Anne back to health to the point where she was able to start exercising again.  Always a fitness person, she started running to get back into shape and entered the Bloomington Open in 1992 as a good way to meet a player to hit with.  Ann played the best match of her life, winning the final 10-8, 22-24, 18-16 and found a hitting partner in the process, Karen Swanson.

 Anne says that in the real world, she has worked as a professional model/actress in the Twin Cities as well as an executive secretary, medical transcriptionist and legal secretary.  Anne is most proud of her family; husband Wayne, children Ron (Amy) , Renee (Jeff) and Rob (Amy) and her nine grandchildren.

 Sparked by a son and son-in-law with military backgrounds, Anne developed a passion for supporting Americans who have served in the military since the Vietnam war and the tragedies of 9/11. She’s helped man the Armed Forces Center (USO) at the Minneapolis Airport.   They help with staging areas for all troop deployments and returns…seeing the soldiers eyes for the last time as they head to war or when they return.  “It is a true blessing  to honor these heroes,” said Anne.

 This courageous lady not only battled back from paralysis to play competitive tennis again, but with the support of faith and family is battling cancer like a true champion today.