Richard “Dick” Woltmann ’66
Lawyer Serves Tennis Program
By Stephen M. Combs ’66
Say hello to Tennis Ohene, honorary chief of tennis of Ghana. That would be Dick Woltmann ’66, who, despite the regal title, failed in two attempts, in 1972 and 1973, to unseat Ghana’s national singles champion. But that is just a sidebar.
The bigger story is what he brought to this West African nation while a Peace Corps volunteer 40 years ago: a youth tennis program that still operates today.
It was 1970. Woltmann had passed the bar exam but ventured to Ghana, not to litigate but to teach English at a teacher training college in the village of Obo Kwahu. The law beckoned anyway.
“The principal said that with my law degree I would make a good head of the discipline committee,” Woltmann said. What he expected to be an unexciting academic committee assignment became a lesson in comparative world jurisprudence when a student came before the court for “somewhat talking back” to his professor. “I thought they would ask him to make an apology,” Woltmann said. “But the committee’s consensus was to send him into the fields to cut sugar cane for 12 hours in the hot sun. So that’s what he did.”
While helping Ghana with its greatest need—education— Woltmann noticed some Ghanaians playing tennis, his college sport. “Being 25, I was convinced that Ghana could become a world power in tennis in the same manner as Sweden,” he said. The Peace Corps engaged him to build a youth program and extended his tour by a year.
Back home as a Peace Corps recruiter, he persuaded six tennis pros to join the program. It was much more than a diversion. “Sports is a universal language,” Woltmann said. “In addition to the discipline and joy of the sport itself, it presents a means to build relationships that can be useful in working together in other areas.”
Additional recruiting for Volunteers in Service to America led to a VISTA position developing a project to help the elderly with legal problems in Everett, Washington. The work, he said, gave him the “perfect opportunity to assuage my guilt for not using my law degree and to continue trying to make a positive difference.” With that experience as a springboard, he joined Bay Area Legal Services (BALS) in 1976 to develop a similar program in the Tampa Bay area.
Woltmann has served as executive director of BALS since 1980, and though proud of his Peace Corps service, he is most proud of the organization he helped build: a law firm that serves the elderly and poor, victims of domestic violence and the foster care system, people facing illegal foreclosures and evictions, and people “who are financially abused by family members, ‘friends,’ and strangers.” The 100-person firm has 50 part- and full-time lawyers, one of them Jena Donofrio Hudson ’97. Hundreds of private attorneys provide additional pro bono services.
The firm is flooded with work. “We are like an emergency room,” Woltmann said, “triaging down to the most egregious cases.” Last year, it helped about 15,000 of its 60,000 new applicants with legal advice, counseling, and representation. “Every day some attorney in this place has made a difference in somebody’s life,” he said. “It’s a perfect blend of law and social work.”
And what about the former Ghanaian champion who edged out Woltmann? He is now a tennis pro in Virginia who has stayed close to Woltmann. A few years ago, they met in a rematch to raise money for the Ghana program. Woltmann lost, again. But that is just a sidebar.