Jeannie Sampson Gonzalez
Induction Year: 2012
Jeannie Sampson (1912-2018) was born in Chicago, Illinois and learned to play tennis with the coaching of her father, Jack Sampson. She became the top ranked Mid-Western player in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s and met her future husband, Karl Kamrath, on the mid west tennis circuit. After extensive tennis travel to the East including the ladies’ nationals at Forest Hills, she traveled to Austin, Texas to attend the University of Texas where she was invited to play on the men’s varsity courts by Dr. Penick because ‘of the force and severity of her groundstrokes’---the first woman player to be so invited.
Jeannie played in the first, then, Houston Tennis Invitational Tournament in 1931 at River Oaks. She reached the finals of that tournament in 1932, 1933 and 1934 and with husband, Karl, help recruit America’s top amateurs to the fledgling tournament including Bitsy Grant, Ellsworth Vines, Frankie Parker, and George Lott.
Upon moving to Houston in 1937, Jeannie immediately became the first teaching tennis professional at both the Houston and River Oaks Country Clubs and began teaching both members and juniors at both clubs until she and her family moved to Fort Sam Houston during the war. While teaching the fundamentals of footwork and racket preparation, she was particularly interested in stressing the value of the game of tennis to build character, sportsmanship and fair play to help build good citizens for America.
After 1945, Gonzalez resumed her interest in the River Oaks Invitational by helping to bring top amateurs to the tournament and helped to promote players being invited to stay the week in members’ homes—a great River Oaks tradition that continues to this day.
Jeannie was the behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in pushing for establishing The Houston Tennis Patrons in 1951 and persuading her father, Jack Sampson, to move to Houston from Chicago to establish an office and run this organization as a volunteer for the next 17 years. With Jack Sampson, she initiated the first, free city wide tennis clinics at park tennis courts throughout Houston playing tennis exhibitions with Gladys Heldman, Hugh Sweeney, Peggy Startzman and other Houston tennis enthusiasts.