Amy Yee was a Seattle tennis star, a graceful and inspirational teacher who for 50 years brought the love of the sport to thousands of young people and adults in schools, parks, and private clubs. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department's former Seattle Tennis Center, located at 2000 Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, was renamed in her honor two years after her death.Early Years
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 20, 1922, Amy Woo came to Washington state with her family in 1928 and settled on a farm on Vashon Island. She and her seven siblings were very athletic, and one of their pleasures was listening to major league baseball on the radio. While in high school on the island, she played basketball, volley ball, participated in track and field, and practiced her softball pitching by throwing large rocks from the gravel road in front of her home.
One day she noticed some friends at school playing tennis and decided to join them. Roy Astrom, her history teacher and also the school’s tennis coach, was encouraging and even assisted her in acquiring a racquet. Her first tennis racquet was a mail-order special from a Sears Roebuck catalogue. Within a week she became the top player on the team. In the 1943 Vashon Island High School yearbook, her picture is accompanied by the statement "with friendliness to all, she goes quietly about her work,” and the senior prophesy stated, “Amy Woo is the world’s champion tennis player and it looks as though she will be able to keep her title for quite some time." This talent for tennis influenced the rest of her life.
A Tennis Family
Amy Woo married Wing Wo Yee and had four children, Lillian Joyce, Linda Mae, Gordon, and Gary. Wing was an immigrant from China and worked in various restaurants as a cook and as chef at the Frye Hotel. He died in 1962, leaving Amy, a 40-year-old widow, to raise the children. She supported her family by working as a waitress in the the Chinese Villa Restaurant, located in Rainier Valley at 2919 Rainier Avenue S, where her husband had been a cook.
The Yees made their home on Beacon Hill where they entertained family and friends with wonderful meals. Royal Brougham (1894-1978), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports columnist, and his wife were frequent guests.
From her early life on the farm in Vashon Island, Amy brought with her a love of gardening. Instead of a green thumb she was thought to have a green fist, growing a profusion of healthy flowers -- daffodils, tulips, cosmos, and dahlias -- in their yard on 18th Avenue S. She loved vegetables and produced a variety for her table.
All of the children were taught the game of tennis by their mother, who never pressured them but offered large quantities of encouragement. She was also funny and warm, with a good sense of humor. It was her dream that the four children earn tennis scholarships to college and each one of them fulfilled that dream. Not only did she teach her family, but her passion and love of the game extended to the larger community, where she and her children offered free clinics at Cleveland High School and at neighborhood parks. Known to be patient, kind, and always positive, she embraced would-be players regardless of class, ethnicity, sex, or age.
Wes Uhlman (b.1935) and Norm Rice (b. 1943), former Seattle mayors, were two of her students. Norm Rice commented for a brochure advertising the Amy Yee Tennis Scholarship Fund:
"Amy Yee has dedicated countless hours of instruction to local area youths who learned not only the game of tennis, but also the key elements of sportsmanship, fair play, teamwork, and the importance of always striving to do one’s best -- qualities we would all like to see in our children."
It was in 1965 that the Yee family was presented with the Post-Intelligencer Family of the Year Award for their promotion of the game of tennis. The children remembered dressing up to go to receive the award and the relief they felt in not having to speak.
A Champion Player
Despite her family responsibilities, her teaching, and her job, Amy Yee found the time and energy to play in and win many tennis championships, including:
- Seattle Seafair Singles Champion -- 14 years
- Pacific NW Women’s Singles, 1952
- Chinese National Singles Champion, San Francisco, 1955, 1960
- Washington State Women’s Singles and Doubles, 1958
- National Senior Indoor Mixed Doubles, 1968
- National Senior Hardcourt Mixed Doubles, 1970
- National Senior Women’s 50 Singles, 1973
- National Senior Women’s 40 Indoor Singles, 1975
- National Senior Women’s 55 Claycourt Doubles, 1978
Amy Yee Tennis Tournament
In Resolution 26425, the Seattle City Council established the annual Amy Yee Tennis Tournament under the auspices of the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. It was signed on September 22, 1980, by Paul Kraabel, the president of the City Council, and by Tim Hill, City Clerk.
The resolution enlarges upon her contributions by noting that:
"Amy Yee devoted countless hours to developing Parks and Recreation tennis teams for the City of Seattle during the past 30 years; donated free instruction to hundreds of Seattle residents; actively promoted tennis among Seattle youth and adults through clinics and the Youth Tennis Foundation."
It also gave recognition to "the distinction she brought Seattle throughout the state and nation as a distinguished representative for Seattle to the athletic community with her participation in tennis," and appreciation "for the long hours she devoted without pay or compensation developing clinics and programs for children and young adults through the city during the past 30 years and her efforts in making tennis a sport available to everyone."
A painting by Andrew Chinn (1915-1996) was dedicated at the time of the resolution and was to be displayed at the Seattle Tennis Center. The painting hung for years in the lounge of the tennis center until the area was remodeled. It is now in storage at the facility. Chinn was an avid tennis player along with his partner and friend, local artist Fay Chong (1912-1973). The Amy Yee Tennis Tournaments are still held each August for juniors and each September for seniors
The Amy Yee Tennis Scholarship Fund, which was founded by Yee in 1990, sponsors the tournament and offers a free tennis camp as well as scholarships to fund equipment and additional training for promising young players. The fund is a non-profit organization associated with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation and receives all of its funding through private donations.
Illness and Death
Throughout the years Amy had arthritis and a stiff neck, but she continued to play. There were times when she could not move for a month or two. At age 68 she was diagnosed with lupus, and had apparently had it for several years. In fact, she won a number of tournaments during this time and never complained of her discomfort -- even pushing herself to work out at a gym.
She died on August 14, 2000, and is buried in Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The symbol on her gravestone was designed by local artist Frank Fujii and features a tennis racket, its strings, a ball, and a trunk with leaves, all representing her interest -- tennis and gardening. Her beloved cat, Humbow, leaves his footprint on the grave. (Frank Fujii also designed the logo for the exhibit Pride and Shame at MOHAI the summer of 1970, which chronicled the history of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest.)
Naming of the Seattle Tennis Center
Immediately after Amy Yee's death there was a groundswell of support for renaming the Tennis Center in her honor. There were letters and petitions with signatures numbering in the hundreds requesting the change. The Park Department was sympathetic to the requests but would not waive the park-naming policy, which stated that park and recreation facilities may not be named for a person until at least two years after that person's death.
On August 28, 2002, two years and two weeks after her death, Kenneth Bounds, Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation, declared that the department was proud to name the Tennis Center after Amy Yee to celebrate the life and accomplishments of a great local athlete and teacher. (Only one other name, that of Walter Hundley [1929-2002] was put forward for the honor.)
A huge celebration, with hundreds in attendance, was held on September 15, 2002, to rename the center, with a cutting of the ribbon by Mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955), Kenneth Bounds, and Kyle Yee. Former Mayors Norm Rice and Charles Royer were among the speakers, and a portrait of Amy Yee by local artist Stuart Moldrem was unveiled.
Honors and Awards
During her life, Amy Yee received the following awards and honors:
- 1978 U.S. Tennis Association. Annual Community Service for Outstanding Contribution to Recreational Tennis
- 1979 Matrix Table, Women of Achievement, Women in Communications, Inc.
- 1990 First Citizen of Seattle, September 8, by Mayor Norm Rice
- 1999 USTA/PNW Honor for Outstanding Junior Tennis Event
- 2000 Organization of Chinese Americans Award
In 2003, Amy Yee was inducted into the U.S. Tennis Association’s Pacific Northwest section Hall of Fame, which noted that she was not only a tennis player and coach, but also a nurturer of talents and minds.