by Terry Nielsen
Over the years, many terrific tennis
names have come out of Brookings, SD. First Lefty Johnson,
then Buck Shane, Jim and Lu Holwerda, Marty Johnson and
Sherwood Hatch, to name a few; all members of the SD Tennis
Hall of Fame.
Add the name Bob Fishback to that tennis
list, as an inductee for 2014 into the SD Tennis Hall of
Fame. Bob is being recognized for his love of the game and his
many contributions to grow tennis, especially in the university
town of Brookings.
Jim Holwerda, one of the toughest
tennis competitors to ever step on a court in SD, credits Bob
for being the game changer for Brookings tennis facilities,
known across the state for its beautiful Hillcrest Courts.
Hatch said: “those courts at Hillcrest
Park, built in the 1970’s, are there because of the
financial assistance of Bob. He donated the matching funds
offered by a federal grant. And later, when something was
needed…..court resurfacing, landscaping…Bob would work quietly
behind the scenes to help secure the needed improvements.”
Bob’s personal tennis story actually was
re-ignited when he was in his mid 20’s and returned to Brookings
to enter the banking business with his father Horace, Jr. Bob,
a 1954 Brookings High grad, had played prep football and
basketball, along with American Legion baseball. He attended
Oberlin College in Ohio where he played both football and
basketball, then earned a masters in business finance from the
University of Chicago.
Bob said he used to play on the clay courts
at Pioneer Park in Brookings as a youngster. As an adult, Bob’s
friendship with Lefty and Buck Shane helped to hone his
game, mostly on the MacDougal courts next to the ROTC building
on the campus of South Dakota State. “We played almost daily
with a few other tennis enthusiasts,” said Bob.
Bob assisted Lefty in running the SD Closed
and even chimed in helping with some lessons. Probably inspired
by Bob’s revitalized dedication to the game, his father (who
played tennis collegiately at Carleton and Dartmouth) decided
to build a court behind the family residence.
“All our three generations and many
friends have enjoyed it for years.” said Bob, “Soon it became
important because the Closed draw was too large for the public
courts. We often played the senior division on our family
Bob has played in tournaments throughout
the Dakotas and recalls a memorable win at the Red River in
Fargo in doubles, pairing with Lefty Johnson. His memories of
playing at McKennan Park in Sioux Falls and the kinship of
fellow tennis players was one of the many reasons he said “yes”
when Holwerda took over the Brookings city tennis recreation
program and a planning committee was formed to build Hillcrest.
Bob thought it was important that Brookings did its part in
providing a first class tennis venue for all of SD to enjoy.
“I have enjoyed tennis for many years and
delight in playing and knowing other tennis enthusiasts. It is
not only the game but the relationships which I value, whether
it was local players like Lefty and Marty Johnson, Jim and Lu
Holwerda, Sherwood and Ginny Hatch, Phil Baker or fellow players
across the state. I’ll name just a few, but there are many who
have contributed to my love of tennis. Among them are John
Simko, Don Grebin, Dave and Tom Weber, Doug Smith, Gerald Sayler,
Terry Jordre, Larry Cantine, Terry Nielsen, Jim Van Gerpen,
Ross Fenn along with the families Clayton, Volin, Trautner and
Dummermuth,” said Bob.
Holwerda said, “Bob is known throughout
Brookings and the entire state of SD as a man of generosity and
high integrity. He and his wife Pat, with children John and
Ann, have enjoyed tennis. But with Bob and his generous and
humble support, hundreds of people beyond Hillcrest Park are
able to enjoy the great game of tennis as well!”
A youthful age 78, Bob still plays in men’s
and mixed leagues in Brookings and has twice weekly tennis
gatherings with Bill Flynn, Eric Landwehr, Pete Anderson, Joe
Schumacher, Dave Zeman, Steve Hayes, Dave Lucchesi, Ovidin
Chilom, Kent Siam, Phil Baker and Fred Delfanian.
In a way, to know Bob’s professional life
is to know Bob personally. He is chairman of the board of
directors for Fishback Financial Corporation and First Bank
and Trust, while his brother Van is vice chairman. Business
decisions today come from the board room in Brookings, SD, not
from far removed board rooms in today’s world of bank mergers
and acquisitions. As a full service bank that opened during
the tough times of 1925, the goal of the Fishback family was to
fill a real need for personal banking services in Brookings. In
doing so, they helped the growth of Brookings.
Today, they have 16 banks in 12 communities
along the I-29 corridor, from Watertown and Milbank, to
Sioux Falls to Vermillion, and east into Pipestone, MN.
Holwerda says when he became athletic
director at Brookings High School, “Bob knew educators could
always use a boost, and he gave us a mortgage with interest
less than the going rate. Later, he gave my widowed mother a
higher rate on some savings so she would benefit. I’ll
never forget his kindness. And Bob helped many other
Brookings citizens behind the scenes that only they know