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Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club
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New York chapter of SVU
Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences
Jitka Volavka-Illner (born Jitka Horcicková), 1939
Jitka Volavka-Illner was born in Prague in 1939. Her father Václav was a successful businessman who owned two coal mines while her mother Vera, who had studied law, stayed home to raise Jitka and her three siblings. Jitka's parents were avid art collectors and she remembers walking to museums and galleries with her father each week. Her family often went skiing in the Krkonoše mountains and, at the age of 14, Jitka won the junior national championships in giant slalom and downhill. That same year, Jitka was the national singles champion in tennis and she says that she had to decide between the two sports. Her father eventually steered her towards tennis and she went on to have a successful career on the international circuit; she first played at Wimbledon at age 16 and several times was ranked in the top 20 in the world. Jitka studied linguistics at Charles University, focusing on the English and Russian languages. After graduating, she taught at a high school for one year and then began teaching English to university students studying engineering. Jitka says this job was 'great' as it gave her time to train for tennis and compete internationally. In 1967, Jitka and her husband moved to London for one year where she taught English at an elementary school. They returned in the fall of 1967, a time which Jitka calls 'wonderful' because of the reforms that marked the Prague Spring. Immediately after the Warsaw Pact invasion in August 1968, Jitka and her husband left Czechoslovakia. While waiting for permission to immigrate to the United States, Jitka lived in Munich where she learned German and worked as a nanny. In March 1969, the pair moved to New York City. For one year Jitka worked as a Russian interpreter for the United Nations. She then began teaching lessons at a tennis club in Manhattan where her clients included Robert Redford and Walter Cronkite. Jitka says that her first years in the United States were 'lonely' and that she sought out Czech connections. She joined the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU) in the 1970s and is currently the president of the New York chapter. In 1973, Jitka had her daughter Nicole and moved to Long Island where she continued to teach tennis. She became the tennis director at Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club and worked there until the late 1990s. For a short time she also worked for Christie's interpreting for Russian art dealers. Since moving to the United States, Jitka has become an art collector and has exhibited the work of Czech artists. She has been involved in charity work and often uses the connections she has made from tennis and with her fellow Czech émigrés for fundraisers and other events. Jitka has also hosted Czech students and opened her home to newly-arrived Czech immigrants. Although she loves to visit Prague, Jitka says that she 'feels more American than Czech.' She lives in Manhattan with her second husband Pavel. Jitka talks about her university studies: In 1961, Jitka competed in the University Games in Bulgaria. In 1963, she repeated the experience in Brazil: Shortly after graduating from Charles University, Jitka began teaching English to engineering students - a job which gave her time to play tennis on an international level: Jitka became the tennis director at a country club on Long Island. One of her clients was well-connected:
Jitka Volavka-Illner was born in Prague.
An avid sportswoman, Jitka excelled at skiing and tennis. She the singles tennis champion in Czechoslovakia and competed internationally. Jitka studied English and Russian at Charles University. After immigrating to the United States in the aftermath of the Warsaw Pact invasion, Jitka became a tennis instructor and art collector. She is the president of the New York chapter of SVU and currently lives in Manhattan.