Hershkowitz Dispels Myth about Seniors

Hershkowitz Dispels Myth about Seniors

Emanuel "Manny" Hershkowitz had walked out onto the court at the 1999 U.S. Open tennis tournament at Flushing Meadows, N.Y., to take his position as one of the tournament's ball boys and bumped into John McEnroe.

"He asked if I was substituting for my grandson," said Hershkowitz. "I said no, I'm substituting for my grandmother. He took a liking to me."

The joke does not seem to mean much until Hershkowitz points out he was 82 years old at the time.

BETWEEN THE PERIOD of 1999-2000, Hershkowitz served as a United States Tennis Association ball boy five times and in 2002, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the "oldest ball boy in the USTA Tennis Open," according to the certificate, although he has yet to appear in the book.

"I resent what Hollywood is doing to seniors. They make us look like imbeciles and comics," Hershkowitz said. "I was trying to prove I was physically able to do what 15- and 16-year-olds do."

The association put an end to Hershkowitz' ball-boy career after his story was picked up by several newspapers, magazines and television news shows, and he began receiving standing ovations just for retrieving a ball.

"The authorities got mad. They said it was a distraction to the players," Hershkowitz said. "I think it was because of the insurance."

It hasn't stopped Hershkowitz from trying to prove being a senior does not mean being a couch potato.

"He's just phenomenal. He is so engaging," said Eileen Boone, the director of senior adult programs for the Reston Community Center. "He's like the Energizer Bunny."

Hershkowitz, a former New York furrier and now Reston retiree, plays golf once a week with the oldest of his three sons and plays indoor tennis twice a week. He has also been a Senior Games competitor — in the 1,500-meters race/walk, the men's tennis events and formerly in the 100- and 200-meter sprints — since the event's inception in 1987, although he said he is retiring this year. "I'm getting old," he says of the Games. In addition, last year, he served as a grandstand marshal at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Bethpage in New York.

HE CURRENTLY has a needlepoint exhibit, along with pastel artist Carol Berman and illustrator Jan Watkins, on display at the Reston Community Center through the end of June.

"I was the fourth boy and my mother taught me to do cross stitch," Hershkowitz, 86, said. "Then I had a prostate operation and had to be in the house, so my wife taught me to do needlepoint and I just took to it. I've been doing needlepoint for about 15 years now. I guess it's my feminine side coming through."

Hershkowitz is often inspired by works of art, buying postcards, enlarging them and turning them into needlepoint images. This year his "Mechanical Elements - Leger 1924" received honorable mention at the community center's Young At Art juried show and he also received a Director's Award from a field of 600 to 700 participants at a needlepoint exhibit at Woodlawn Plantation.

"We went to a museum and he said he was going to do some of the pieces. He bought a couple of postcards and he did a Lichtenstein that is on display at the center," Boone said.

Hershkowitz said he does not sell his needlepoint, instead the various works are for family, because he says it's a better legacy than giving them money.

DESPITE HIS ATHLETIC and artful accomplishments, Hershkowitz said he is most proud of being married to the same woman for 60 years, Ruth, and of his three children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

When the family moved to Reston 30 years ago, Hershkowitz worked selling furnishings at Bloomingdale's while his wife, Ruth, started the school at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.

"She's the intellect, I'm the jock," he said. "Thank goodness, two of our three children take after her. They're lawyers. The third takes after me. He's a high-school teacher."

Two of his children and their families live in the area, while the third lives in Long Island, N.Y.

While family may be his top priority, Hershkowitz does keeps a scrapbook of his senior accomplishments and the one item he said he is most honored to have is a letter from the Funhouse Discovery Center near Seattle, Washington. The letter says they have included Hershkowitz as part of a permanent display, "Age Timevine," which chronicles the age of people at the time they completed a noteworthy accomplishment.

As far as Hollywood is concerned, Hershkowitz said he doesn't feel his point has gotten through, so he'll keep trying.

"It does seem his life is one big quest to prove seniors are just that, senior. It's just a number," Boone said. "He does try to motivate people, and he does, especially when they see people his age doing so many things."

The art exhibit featuring Hershkowitz, Berman and Watkins will be on display at the Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, until June 30.