Dr. Kenneth W. Volk, a retired Towson dentist and World War II veteran who accumulated more than 200 titles in doubles tennis tournaments over decades of competition, died May 25 from complications of a stroke at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Towson resident was 93.
“Kenny was the most competitive player I ever played with,” said Bill Heller, a Lutherville resident who teamed up with Dr. Volk for decades. “He’d always go for the jugular and never give up.”
Kalman R. “Buzzy” Hettleman began playing against Dr. Volk in the 1950s, and said, “While he didn’t have great form, he was a winner and always a great gentleman. He was a good competitor and a really great guy.”
Kenneth William Volk was born in Baltimore and raised on E. 31st Street. He was the son of Joseph F. Volk, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad accountant, and Annie Virginia “Virgie” Williams Volk, a homemaker and secretary for Hilgartner Marble Co.
An accomplished tennis player from an early age, he won his first tournament when he was 13.
After graduating in 1941 from City College, he attended Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, on a tennis scholarship.
Because World War II was underway, he was required to join ROTC, and at the conclusion of his freshman year his unit was called to active duty in the Army.
While participating in the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines in 1944 with the 96th Infantry Division, he suffered an unusual wound — he was hit by three bullets from Japanese fire, causing a hand grenade hanging from his belt to shatter and sending shrapnel throughout his body.
He spent almost two years at an Army hospital in Staunton, Va., and underwent five operations for his wounds. During his recovery, a nurse, who was also a tennis player, would wheel him to the hospital’s courts and stand him up at the net so he could volley.
He returned to Western Maryland College, played varsity tennis and was team captain in 1946 and 1947. He was undefeated during his college career.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree from Western Maryland in 1947, then graduated in 1951 from the University of Maryland Dental School.
He established a practice in an office at Loch Raven Boulevard and East Cold Spring Lane, later moving to the 6500 block of York Road in Rodgers Forge.
After his college years, Dr. Volk was a mainstay on the Baltimore tennis scene and a regular in the doubles competition of the Evening Sun Municipal tennis championships on the courts at Clifton Park. Family members said in the late 1950s, Dr. Volk once played and defeated Arthur Ashe when the future tennis sensation, then a teenager, attended a Clifton Park event.
Dr. Volk concentrated on playing doubles rather than singles, once explaining that he “liked the game better; quicker with the hands and more action at the net.”
“Of course, I’ve been fortunate over the years by getting the best double players around, like Bart Harvey, Judy Devlin Hashman, Patsy Stevens and Russ Tontz,” Dr. Volk said in a 1966 interview with The Evening Sun.
The paper noted that together, Dr. Volk and Mr. Harvey had “captured more Evening Sun men’s trophies than any other tandem, eight!”
“Ken and Judy Devlin [Hashman] won the mixed doubles Evening Sun tournament 10 year in a row,” wrote his wife of 63 years, the former Anna Cecilia “Nancy” McCormack, in a biographical profile of her husband.
Ms. Devlin Hashman later went on to become an internationally known world badminton champion.
“Before the advent of tennis barns, he and Judy also partnered playing badminton over the winter months,” Mrs. Volk wrote.
Jim Cummings, a resident of Towson’s Fellowship Farm neighborhood, also did tennis battle with Dr. Volk.
“He and Barty were a recognized national team and one of the toughest teams I ever had to play against,” he said.
“Ken was competitive, and Barty no less,” Mr. Cummings said. “When they were on the court, they wouldn’t give you the time of day — which was all good, you had to play your best.”
Mr. Heller recalled an inter-club match inside the tennis barn at Cross Keys, when he was teamed up with Dr. Volk.
“Suddenly, I went down with a torn Achilles heel. I doubled over and looked up to see Kenny standing over me saying, ‘Get up! Get up! We can still win this,’ ” Mr. Heller said. “That’s the kind of player he was. He was a great guy and I loved him. He had to drive me home that day.”
A longtime member of the Homeland Racquet Club, Dr. Volk competed locally, nationally and in Europe and Canada. One of his favorite tennis venues was the Coral Beach Club in Bermuda.
He played nationally in the senior circuit, and in 1981 was ranked number two in the 55 age group.
“He and his partner, Hal Demoody of Virginia, lost to Bobby Riggs and Charlie Oliver, two professional players, at the nationals in Knoxville, Tenn.,” Mrs. Volk wrote in the profile.
“It’s even more fun now than when I was younger,” Dr. Volk told The Baltimore Sun in 1985. “When you get in the seniors, you have to go places to play, and I’ve learned to know all of the good players around my age on the East Coast.
“My wife, Nancy … likes to call these tournaments ‘socials,’ ” he said. “I do enjoy the socializing as much as the tennis.”
After his longtime partner Mr. Harvey stopped playing tournaments, Dr. Volk soldiered on. He continued to compete in tournaments until he was well into his 80s.
“It’s in my blood,” he told The Sun. “I can’t let it go. I love the competition.”
After selling his dental practice and retiring in 1989, Dr. Volk was named coach of the women’s tennis team at Towson University. He held that position for 13 years.
In 1991, he was inducted into the Western Maryland College Hall of Fame.
In addition to tennis, he was an expert duplicate bridge player, and was a fan of the Orioles and Ravens.
Dr. Volk and his wife were longtime residents of Yarmouth Road in Wiltondale. For the past 15 years they lived at Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson.