Two men with limited financial resources but an abundance of creativity and business savvy got together in a Doylestown backyard in the winter of 1972,
They were neighbors with a grand idea, far too grand to succeed – except for their extraordinary persuasion. They were salesmen in their early 40s, anxious to take on a challenge. Ed Mullaney was a graduate of the University of Scranton who had recently worked in sales for Scott Paper Company; Duane Murner, a Harvard graduate, was a regional director for The Prudential Insurance Company.
They dreamed they could build an indoor tennis club. They didn’t know the business but they played at courts in Southampton and instinct told them the time was right for a club in Central Bucks.
They had no capital.
With personal loans, they traveled the East Coast, looking for the best tennis clubs. They found an architect and a builder. They visited bank after bank, 22 in all, seeking enough money to get started. With the loans drained, 10 months after their firm commitment, they were ready to give up.
But they had faith in their idea. On Christmas Eve 1972, Duane said, “We’ll say we took a shot at the brass ring, and it failed.” But Ed countered, “How about you go home and say a prayer and I’ll do the same? If nothing happens in 48 hours, we’ll call it quits.”
On the day after Christmas, Ed suddenly remembered advice from an old friend, and former boss. It came from “Acres of Diamonds,” the speech repeated thousands of times by Russell Conwell, the founder of Temple University and farmer’s son who had worked his way to success. His advice amounted to “With hard work and right ideas, you can be successful, if you look in your own backyard.”
“He that can give you to his city any blessing, he who can be a good citizen while he lives here, he that can make better homes, he that can be a blessing whether he works in the shop or sits behind the counter or keeps house, whatever be his life, he who would be great anywhere must first be great in his own Philadelphia,” Conwell said.
The friends, Duane and Ed, had both prayed that Christmas for something good to come from their venture, something that could help the community. A Korean War veteran, that day Ed remembered a small bank where he had once applied for a G.I. loan. He contacted the bank president – no luck there but the local banker recommended a larger bank, East Girard of Philadelphia. A week later, the partners had a loan approved for $550,000.
Then one of Duane’s college friends from Harvard told them he had raised money from a group of doctors – funding that would purchase land and provide startup capital. The group, mostly psychiatrists, met Duane at a diner in Montgomeryville. He left with a check for $100,000.
They bought land on Swamp Road in Doylestown Township for $75,000, and built a big clubhouse, 354 feet by 120 feet, with a lobby, kitchen, offices, a pro shop and locker room. The Doylestown Raquet Club opened with 150 members on Sept. 13, 1973. The membership fee was $25 for an individual, $40 a family. It took four years to come out of the red.
Ed had left his job, borrowed $5,000 so he could spend full time on planning for the club and finding investors. Duane stayed on as a district manager for the Prudential Insurance Company of America. Ed took over as club manager. He bought out his partner in 1981, when Duane moved to Louisville to be president and chairman of the board of Commonwealth Insurance.
The two friends had met years before as members of a folk music group at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Ed sang and Duane played guitar. In the same group, Ed, a single dad, met Karen Ritter, a single mom. Both came from the Scranton area and each had children. They married 10 years after the business started. Karen was the bookkeeper who became Ed’s new major partner.
The club became a big social draw in Central Bucks with the annual St. Patrick’s Day party, and many fundraisers – for Doylestown Hospital, Today, Inc., the drug rehabilitation center, and Americans for Native Americans, a Doylestown-based organization that supports Native Americans in the West. The club developed teams for adults and children, earning national championships and tennis club honors.
Ed set great store in having a cheerful demeanor and taking a genuine, generous interest in others. He had attended a Dale Carnegie course and he paid for employees and others to do the same. He developed an enduring passion for the University of Notre Dame.
Ed Mullaney died on April 9, at home in Chalfont. He had spent 47 years as owner and manager of the Doylestown Tennis Club, which became known for its community support, answering the partners’ goal for some good to come from their venture. And it started in Ed’s backyard.
Ed left Karen, six children from their “blended” family of children and step-children and their spouses, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A Memorial Mass at St. Robert Bellarmine Church will be announced at a later date. Donations in may be made to the Little Sisters of the Poor, Payable to Holy Family Home, 5300 Chester Avenue Philadelphia, 19143.