Joseph Rovner, a community cornerstone at Jardel Recreation Center, died on June 27. He was 88.
The tennis courts next to Jardel Recreation Center were just a little quieter that Sunday. Over a month later, regulars who head to the courts for friendly competitive doubles matches agree; it still feels like Joseph Rovner is at the courts, calling the shots.
“He was the Commissioner of Jardel,” said Allen Hornblum, who played alongside Rovner for 20 years. “You mention that term, and everyone knew who you were talking about.”
Rovner, a community cornerstone at Jardel Recreation Center, died on June 27. He was 88. Rovner was a South Philadelphia native who spent the past 42 years living right around the corner of Jardel. According to Michael DeLaura, who knew him for 17 years, he didn’t skip a day at the tennis courts since moving.
The men at the tennis court agreed on three things. One, at Jardel, Rovner was the head honcho. If there was a dispute over whether the ball was in bounds or anything similar, Rovner made the final call.
Two, there was something magnetic about his personality.
“He had an allure to him,” said George Petrakis, who knew him for 17 years. “You see him in the distance and gravitate toward him.”
His relationship with many “Jardelians” extended beyond the tennis court. He was known and appreciated for his various philosophies on life, which he often distributed as advice.
DeLaura recalled an instance where the Commissioner told him you can’t get too good at golf or tennis. If you get too good, that means you’re not taking care of your family.
As for the third thing about him everyone agreed on, the men at the tennis court were his second family.
“He always says he has two families, and this [Jardel] is very important to him,’ said David Morison, who knew him for 35 years. “I talk about him in the present tense because he’s still here as far as I’m concerned.”
Rovner was born in 1929 and grew up around 10th and Oregon in South Philly. As for his first family, he was married to the late Marlyn and father of Dr. Marc (Ellen) Rovner and Robert Rovner. He had three grandchildren, Ashley, Lauren and Sydney.
Rovner wasn’t good only at tennis — far from it. As Morison worded it, he excelled at everything he did — just not according to him.
Several of his hobbies included teaching himself Spanish, writing music and playing golf, baseball and, of course, tennis. According to Harvey Brownstein, a friend who knew him for 40 years, he would sing doo-wop on the street corner with a few other guys.
“He didn’t have the best voice,” Brownstein recalled with a chuckle, so maybe he wasn’t perfect at everything.
But he was a good baseball player. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, he played minor league baseball for the New York Giants. After that, he worked as a stockbroker for several companies.
Hornblum recalled checking in on Rovner in his home. He brought along his dog Rossie, who Rovner believed is too smart for a leash. (She wandered around the outside of the tennis court untethered, as per his wish).
Hornblum said Rovner’s door was locked, which was odd for him. He found Rovner inside, wearing his tennis shirt and leaning against his golf clubs.
“I knew it was the end of an era,” he said.
As the Commissioner got older, he got out on the court less, but was a permanent fixture on the sidelines.
“He appreciated when things were done right,” said Ron Fritz, who knew Rovner for 14 years. “When we hit a good shot, he just marveled at it.”
The men at the tennis court understand things won’t be the same. But to them, it feels like Rovner hasn’t gone anywhere.
“We’re still talking about him as if he’s here,” Hornblum said. “As long as we remember him, he will still be here.” ••
Logan Krum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org