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Courier gala helps YMCA project

Replete with praise, the Dade City native's retirement party brought more than 200 family members and friends out for the fundraising event.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


DADE CITY -- No retiree should have to work this hard at his own retirement party.

Yet retired professional tennis star Jim Courier didn't seem to mind while his Monday evening retirement bash, a fundraiser to establish a YMCA in his old hometown of Dade City, was in full-gear.

There was Courier, milling around First United Methodist Church beforehand, exchanging backslaps and catching up with long-ago friends.

There was Courier onstage, setting the tone for the evening with his wit.

"All these family and friends here," said a smiling Courier from the lectern, "and all these skeletons to dig up on me."

He accepted proclamations and honors from city and county officials. The silent auction turned into a very loud one as Courier encouraged donors to be generous, offering for bid a one-hour tennis lesson from the former No. 1 player in the world to benefit the YMCA, and then making a winning $3,000 bid on a 1996 University of Florida national championship football autographed by Gators coach Steve Spurrier.

Then there was Courier after the tribute video had been shown, soaking in the standing ovation from the more than 200 family, friends and YMCA contributors who came to honor him.

And Courier almost had to emcee his own retirement dinner because designated-emcee Lewis Abraham couldn't find his glasses.

"It was no work at all," Courier, 29, said afterward. "I was glad to come back and help out."

Indeed he did. YMCA fundraising has nearly doubled since the announcement of the Courier dinner two weeks ago. Courier's presence Monday generated about $12,000, with $7,590 raised by the charity auction alone.

All together, about $160,000 has now been raised to establish a YMCA in Dade City. Booster David West said he hopes the effort will soon reach its $200,000 goal after he finalizes some major donations.

West was happy that Dade City could honor Courier, and that he in turn could honor the city.

"I think he felt honored that we did that for him," West said. "But I think it was a great honor for us (too). He could easily have said "No, I just want a private party with my friends.'

"But no, he said, "Let's use my appearance to help out the YMCA.' It wasn't anything he had to do. I think it testifies to his character and the kind of person he is."

The honors came early and often for Courier. Pasco County commissioners Sylvia Young and David "Hap" Clark Jr. presented Courier with a plaque commemorating his first French Open victory, which he won in 1991. The county had it made nine years ago, but never presented it to Courier until Monday.

Dade City mayor Scott Black also read a proclamation from the city honoring Courier for his many accomplishments. Black apologized to Courier because the city's proclamation calls him "world champion."

"I've since learned there is no such thing," the mayor said.

"Sounds good to me," Courier responded.

Courier joked that he hadn't had the chance to check out all the ways the county has chosen to honor him over the years, including the signs at the county line proclaiming Pasco County his home -- though he's lived in Orlando for years.

"Oh, so you're the guy on all those signs," Courier said people ask him.

Then the video tribute played, complete with testimonials from his mother, Linda, childhood friends and Tampa Tribune columnist Tom McEwen. The video was replete with shots of Courier celebrating his wins at the French Open.

In the video, Courier's mother recalls when her son, just a child, had trouble concentrating on his tennis lessons from boyhood instructor Tim Crosby.

"Look Jimbo," the mother recalled Crosby scolding a young Courier, "You are wasting your mother's money."

Added Linda Courier: "You didn't waste a thing."

Courier's former teacher at Pasco Elementary School, Eva Hughey, remembers when Courier sang the song, All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. Courier, who now composes and performs music in his own studio, was missing those aforementioned teeth at the time.

"I started his music career," she joked on the video.

When the video was over, Courier accepted a round of applause and expressed his relief. "Wow," he said. "That could have been a lot worse."

Afterward, Courier signed autographs and posed for pictures well into the night. He didn't even get to eat, having to take home some barbecued chicken and ribs from George and Gladys', the Dade City restaurant he made famous overseas when he wore its T-shirt to tournaments.

"Dade City is still home for me," Courier said. "I was just glad I was able to help out a good cause."

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