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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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How Paul Mendelson’s tennis legacy continues to thrive at Central Institute for the Deaf

Paul+Mendelson
Paul Mendelson

Tennis is a popular after-school activity at Central Institute for the Deaf (CID). It began in 2005 at the Central West End institution and was the brainchild of late Jewish St. Louisan Paul Mendelson. Now, six years after Mendelson’s death, the CID tennis program is going strong thanks to the efforts of his daughter Suzan Laycob and his grandson Michael Laycob.

“It’s inspiring to see students learn to listen and to communicate and to succeed as they learn a new sport that’s very hard to learn,” said Michael Laycob, a member of Congregation Temple Israel. “It’s very rewarding to be a part of it. And I think that’s what Paul envisioned when he started it.”

Neither Mendelson nor any member of his family was deaf or hard of hearing, but he had an empathy for children who had to struggle with any physical challenge, said Suzan Laycob, a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona.

Suzan Laycob

“He was always interested in uphill battles that others fought and had to fight every day,” she said. “It occurred to him that in tennis, the kids didn’t have to read lips or do anything but understand that you try to get the ball back over the net within the lines. He thought it would be a cognitive break for them and it would be good for mind and body.”

Paul Mendelson was born in 1927 and graduated from Soldan High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 from Washington University and served in the Army from 1951 to 1953. He joined American Loose Leaf, his father’s company, eventually taking the helm. Mendelson was innovative and grew the company from a small provider of three-ring binders into a powerhouse business supply firm.

Mendelson had a good head for business and excelled as an athlete. He once told his daughter that if he hadn’t gone into office supplies, he would have loved to work as a high school physical education teacher. He regularly played basketball and handball, but his favorite activity was tennis. Mendelson was also gregarious and generous.

“There wasn’t a person my dad met that wasn’t a friend,” Suzan Laycob said. “He loved people. He was kind and generous, and he always had a smile on his face. His primary focus was Jewish causes, but he also supported the underserved and underprivileged. He supported causes like Kids with Cancer and Paraquad.”

Mendelson’s attitude in life was consistent with tikkun olam (repairing the world), said Rabbi Carnie Rose, former senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Amoona.

“Paul came from some humble beginnings, did very well and always felt that he was responsible for making the world a better place,” Rose said. “He was a big, big fan of synagogue Judaism, of religious Judaism, of spiritual Judaism and of learning. He was a man of great mind and appreciated deep thinking.”

The CID tennis program was one of Mendelson’s favorite charitable projects. That was clear from his experiences watching the deaf and hard of hearing students play, said Ann Holmes, CID director of individual donor relations.

“He had enthusiasm for our children with hearing loss,” Holmes said. “He suggested that we start a tennis program. His eyes would sparkle and light up when he came to play tennis and he introduced a number of community folks to our program each fall. He was wonderful because he was an ambassador for CID and introduced some new people to what we do here and how to bring the game of tennis and expose our kids to a really fun sport.”

It’s now a Mendelson family tradition to play tennis and give back to the community. Michael Laycob, who excels at the sport like his grandfather, is happy to continue volunteering with the CID program and encouraging his sons to do the same.

“Paul was an incredibly kind and conscientious and caring individual who loved tennis and loved teaching it to others,” Laycob said. “He saw something special in Central Institute for the Deaf and its work. I spent a lot of time as a young child playing tennis with him, and he helped me become a better tennis player. I spend time with our boys now, working on their tennis, appreciating the sport and passing down what we’ve learned to help others who can benefit from it.”

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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.