BERLIN — About 100 platform tennis players last Saturday gathered at the Ocean Pines Racquet Center to remember Jim Freeman, an active player who passed away on March 15 after a battle with cancer.
Freeman was recalled both as a teacher, and as a friendly and fun-loving guy who enjoyed the sport. He also loved a cold beer, and his favorite football team, the Eagles, from his native Pennsylvania.
Sue Walter, who organized “The Celebration of Life – Play & Party” in honor of Freeman, said more than $2,200 had been donated for the event by platform members. The funds covered the luncheon expenses and a memorial to Freeman, and the rest will help with costs of future Platform Tennis Club events.
Walter said Freeman’s request for his own celebration of life, was that his friends “gather, play, eat and drink and party.”
“I think he’ll be watching today,” she said.
Indeed, the event was filled both with heartfelt remembrances, and with lots of smiles and laughter.
“I don’t think you could even imagine how much it meant to Jim and, when he was sick, what a bright spot you were,” June Freeman, his widow, said. “The best move we ever made was joining [the Platform Tennis Club]. Our life is so much richer and fuller, and we have so many friends … I could never ask for anything better in my life. All I can say is, I love you and thank you so much. You’ve been so good, and you are family to me and always were family to Jim, and always put a smile on his face. He just loved you all.”
John Walter remembered Freeman as a man who was born to be a teacher. Freeman worked for 31 years as a seventh-grade science teacher at Keith Valley Middle School in Horsham, Pa.
After he retired, Freeman continued teaching – as a platform tennis instructor in Ocean Pines.
“If it wasn’t for Jim, we wouldn’t have met anybody here,” Walter said, becoming emotional. “We’re all close. We’ve had Christmas dinners with June and Jim … and it’s been a blessing.”
Walter also recalled one of the first times he played platform tennis with Freeman, when he learned about his “very colorful vocabulary.”
“When I started to play platform tennis, one day he was off the rails, [and] there were f-bombs, s-bombs … everything. I said to June, ‘What’s this all about?’ June told me, ‘He doesn’t play well with other people sometimes,’” Walter said, getting a big laugh from the crowd.
Susan Morris said she met Freeman at a platform tennis tournament. Her family was visiting from New Jersey, and he invited them to play the next day.
“I thought, wow – how generous was that, that this man walked over, a total stranger, and said, ‘Won’t you come and join us,'” she said. “Within a couple of weeks, we bought a house and were here. And it was because he walked over and said hello that we’re here.”
In planning the physical part of the memorial, Walter said she first thought about a getting bench in honor of Freeman. She said Tracey Jones had another idea and reached out to her brother, Doug Dawson, a master woodcraftsman, who quickly sketched a design of a wooden bar table filled with symbols of some of Freeman’s favorite things.
“He blew our socks off, what this man has done,” she said.
The memorial, unveiled on Saturday, features a tabletop of eight hand-carved, wood platform tennis paddles, with pictures of some of Freeman’s favorite things on each one, from his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and his favorite Yuengling beer, to fishing, photography, golf, and the U.S. Marines emblem. It will become a permanent part of the Ocean Pines Racquet Center.