SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The village Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday, June 26, to rename the South Orange Tennis Courts in honor of Kenneth Allen Graham, a lifelong South Orange resident who coached tennis in the community for several decades. The new Kenneth Allen Graham Tennis Courts mark the first place in town to be named after a person of African-American descent.
Friends and colleagues of Graham, who died last year, gathered with members of the tennis community at the meeting to show support for the renaming.
Jeanine Rand, who started the petition to rename the courts in remembrance of Graham, said the honor serves to recognize “his skills, passion and devotion.”
“Kenny Graham tennis courts would stand as a testament of just what South Orange strives to be: a community of neighbors … inclusive and helpful,” she said.
Graham, born June 28, 1942, was the oldest of Robert and Lilian Graham’s seven children. His parents, also lifelong South Orange residents, were notable in the community. His father owned a taxi service while his mother participated in charity efforts in town.
Graham graduated from the Newark College of Arts and Sciences in 1976 with a bachelor of arts degree in zoology; however, he decided to embrace his passion for tennis and embark on a coaching career. Graham served as an instructor at leading New Jersey Racquet clubs, before becoming head men’s tennis coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, and Rutgers University in Newark.
It was at home at the Baird Community Center, however, that his spirit, generosity and encouragement has left a lasting impact. He coached at the community center for decades until his death in 2017.
South Orange resident Myral Friedling remembered Graham as “a real force in the community.”
“My husband and I have played tennis on the courts for an astonishing 60 years, and Ken Graham was a part of that experience,” she said. “He was just a rare soul who permeated life in this village in a very positive manner.”
Arthur Fredman, president of Berkeley Tennis Club in Orange, also vouched for Graham’s character, describing him as a “shining light.”
“He was underestimated by so many, but he was brilliant,” Fredman said. “He not only knew tennis, he knew life.”
South Orange Village Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton, chairwoman of the Recreation Committee, spearheaded the renaming efforts. At the meeting she informed the community of inaugural plans the committee is discussing. Thus far, they have considered a tennis tournament in honor of Graham, followed by a ribbon cutting. She also said the committee plans to install two signs: one with just a name and the other, a placard, with more information.
“You cannot help but honor the man,” said Wale Wallace, a former colleague of Graham. “To me, he was South Orange.”