John Happy Jr. got used to being teased about his name while growing up on Spokane’s South Hill.
“It didn’t always make me happy,” he said. “I got called hapless and a happy hooligan.”
But at 91, he’s embraced his moniker, and even more he enjoys living up to it. He’s got a “happy” sign on the side of his garage, several more within, and on his May 3 birthday, a court at Spokane Racquet Club was named after him.
“It’s court No. 4 where I played most all of the time,” said Happy.
Balance issues caused him to put his racquet down at 90, but he still volunteers at the club he helped found in 1960.
“I’m usually there on Fridays, to help the manager out.”
His love of the game began when he was 10, and his father, John Happy Sr., introduced him to it.
“Dad was a pretty good tennis player,” Happy recalled.
He kept up with the sport at Lewis and Clark High School. After graduating in 1947, he attended the University of Washington, enrolling in the ROTC program. Happy expected to serve out his commitment with the Naval Reserve, but fate intervened.
“I got a letter from the Navy,” he recalled.
The advent of the Korean War, meant the 21-year-old new graduate, was assigned to active duty.
“I was a seasick sailor, still wet behind the ears,” he said. “But I grew up fast and I learned a lot.”
He spent his tour of duty in the Pacific.
“Thankfully, I never made it to Korea.”
In June 1953, he finished his commitment to the U.S. Navy and in July, he married his college sweetheart, Joann.
Happy wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his business degree. His father had opened an insurance agency in Spokane in 1928, and he invited his son to join him.
“We had a great relationship,” said Happy. “I learned so much from him.”
His father also served as a state senator from 1946 to 1962.
“He died in office at age 67,” Happy said.
While he continued working in the agency his father founded, Happy found an outlet he and his whole family could enjoy. What had begun as the Spokane Tennis Club, became the Spokane Racquet Club, and Happy was there for its evolution.
“We broke ground at the site in 1961, and charged families $300 for membership,” he recalled. “We were the first privately-owned tennis club in town, and we grew quickly.”
For 35 years his family, which included two sons and a daughter, lived next door to the club on South Glenrose Road.
“Wives and kids would come play tennis and swim in the pool, and dads would join them after work,” Happy said. “They’d play tennis, have a swim, and then barbecue out on the lawn.”
Lasting memories and friendships formed during those halcyon days. Happy loved the camaraderie he shared with his friends across the net.
“I was never good enough that I took my game seriously,” he said.
In 1970, he joined Fidelity Insurance, where he spent 16 years. From there he moved on to work for the city of Spokane as a risk manager. He said he greatly enjoyed his seven-year tenure with the City.
But then he turned 63.
“My dad died at 67 and my mom at 70,” Happy said. “I decided to retire at 63 and play.”
He did play, but he also taught classes at SFCC, and worked as a risk management consultant for Mukogowa Fort Wright for several years.
In 2002, he and Joann moved to a home on the Rockwood South Hill campus. Since that time, she has moved to the memory care facility on the campus.
Happy enjoys fitness classes and helping to care for the roses at Rockwood.
As he reflected on his recent birthday, he mused that maybe all that tennis has helped him live long past the ages his parents did.
Though he no longer lobs a ball across the net, he’s not quite ready to pick up a new sport.
“I’m not old enough to play golf,” Happy said, with a twinkle in his eye. “When I get old enough, I’ll pick up a club.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.