Jitka Volavka-Illner (born Jitka Horcicková), 1939
Jitka Volavka-Illner was born in Prague in 1939.
father Václav was a successful businessman who owned two coal mines while her
mother Vera, who had studied law, stayed home to raise Jitka
Jitka's parents were avid art collectors and she
remembers walking to museums and galleries with her
father each week.
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.
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.
says this job was 'great' as it gave her
time to train for tennis and compete internationally.
In 1967, Jitka
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
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.
then began teaching lessons at a tennis club in Manhattan where her
clients included Robert Redford and Walter Cronkite.
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
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.
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.
has also hosted Czech students and opened her
home to newly-arrived Czech immigrants.
loves to visit Prague, Jitka
says that she
'feels more American than Czech.' She
lives in Manhattan with her
second husband Pavel.
talks about her
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: