By Matt Thomas, Gustavus Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication
ST. PETER, Minn. -- Steve Wilkinson, longtime men’s tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College and founder of Tennis and Life Camps, passed away on Wednesday, January 21 at the age of 73 after courageously living with cancer for nearly seven years.
Wilkinson spent 39 years (1971-2009) at the helm of the Gustavus men’s tennis program. His teams compiled 929 wins overall, the most victories in the history of collegiate men’s tennis.
Wilkinson’s squads won two NCAA Division III titles (1980 and 1982) as well as 35 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) titles. His teams compiled an overall record of 929-278 (.769) and an MIAC mark of 334-1 (.997). In addition, his players claimed six national doubles titles, and four national singles titles. He coached 46 players to 87 ITA All-America honors, 103 players to 226 All-Conference honors, and five CoSIDA Academic All-Americans. He was named NAIA National Coach of the Year twice (1974 and 1984) and Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division III Coach of the Year three times (1982, 2001, and 2003).
Along with his wife, Barbara, Wilkinson founded Tennis and Life Camps in 1977. For more than 35 years, the couple impacted generations of tennis enthusiasts by dedicating their lives to improving tennis performance of youth and adults and teaching life skills that can be used on and off the court. The Wilkinsons gifted Tennis and Life Camps to the College in 2010, ensuring that the camp’s legacy will be felt at Gustavus for decades to come. Steve and Barb also created an endowed position at Gustavus in sports ethics and men’s tennis, which is currently held by head men’s tennis coach Tommy Valentini.
Wilkinson also played a key role in the fundraising and construction of the Gustavus tennis facilities, which are considered to be among the finest in the nation.
Wilkinson was an outstanding player in his own right. He played No. 1 singles at the University of Iowa and was one of the best players in the Big Ten. After college, Wilkinson played competitive tennis for many years and was ranked No. 1 in the United States in the 45, 50, 55 and 60-and-over divisions. He represented the United States in the Dubler Cup, Perry Cup and Austria Cup competitions, winning the world championship in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1989 and finishing second in Berlin, Germany, in 1992.
Wilkinson was involved in numerous national tennis organizations, serving on the executive committees of the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA), the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), and the United States Tennis Association (USTA). He was inducted into the U.S. Professional Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame, the Gustavus Athletics Hall of Fame, the USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame, the Northern Tennis Association Hall of Fame, and the Iowa Tennis Hall of Fame. He received the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Tennis Educational Merit Award and The Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Iowa.
Wilkinson is survived by his wife of 48 years, Barbara, two daughters, Stephanie and Deborah, sons-in-law Scott and Jon, four grandchildren, Caroline, Eloise, Stephen, and Audrey, and many relatives and friends. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, January 31 in at Christ Chapel on the Gustavus campus with Pastor Alan Bray of First Lutheran Church of St. Peter officiating. A luncheon will follow the service in the College’s Evelyn Young Dining Room. Visitation will take place from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 30 at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter.