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  • Laura Lou Kunnen, 68, '50s tennis icon


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    Laura Lou Kunnen, 68, '50s tennis icon

    By 15, she won five national titles and was on the cover of many national magazines and newspapers.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- Laura Lou Kunnen, a tennis icon from the 1950s whose love for the game spread to her six sons and one daughter, died in her sleep Tuesday after an 18-month battle with cancer. She was 68.

    "She was an amazing lady and loved so much by her family," said her daughter-in-law, Bernadette Kunnen of Portland, Ore. "Her love of tennis was passed on to her children, and it is also continuing with her grandchildren."

    Mrs. Kunnen began playing national tournaments at age 12, despite opposition from some tournament directors and players who felt she was too young to compete.

    Still, she won five national titles before she turned 15. Taught by her father, Leslie Jahn, a tennis pro in South Orange, N.J., the tenacious youngster's successes landed her on the cover of numerous national magazines and newspapers.

    "Laura Lou was totally consumed by tennis from a very young age," said Bob Butterfield, tennis director at East Lake Woodlands Country Club, where Mrs. Kunnen was a member. "She was one of those people that was intent on educating her family to tennis. Laura Lou had a great feel for the game and was a top 10 player in her heyday."

    Butterfield is hosting a charity event this weekend to benefit cancer research at Morton Plant Hospital and is holding the event in memory of Mrs. Kunnen.

    Her success in tennis included winning as many as 40 titles while still a teenager, a win over the great Maureen Connolly, and a trip to Wimbledon in 1960. After winning the Irish Open doubles title, Kunnen quit tennis in 1976 until 1990.

    'I just wanted to get away from tennis," she said in an interview, "but I found I needed it. The game has had a tremendous impact on my life, and it teaches so many lessons that apply in life."

    Mrs. Kunnen resumed training for competition and had won several state tournaments before cancer halted her in 1999. Still, she could be found on the courts whenever she was able.

    Earlier this month, the USTA Florida Section unanimously elected Kunnen to the state organization's Hall of Fame in recognition of her tennis achievements and contributions to the game.

    Besides her husband of 50 years, Frank Kunnen, she leaves sons Frank "Chip" III and John, both of Palm Harbor, and Dennis of Portland, Ore., Michael of Port Charlotte, Guy Patrick of Dunedin and Bill of Clearwater and daughter Laura Lyons of Dunedin.

    Mrs. Kunnen is also survived by her mother, Lucy Meska of Largo, a sister, Gwynne Nave of Largo and 13 grandchildren.

    Funeral arrangements include viewings from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today and a wake service at 7 p.m. at Moss Feaster Funeral Home in Clearwater. The funeral service is 10 a.m. Friday at St. Cecelia's Catholic Church in Clearwater.

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