On any given morning, people knew where to find Melvin "Mel" Wade. He almost certainly was playing tennis in the North Shore, probably in one of the leagues he organized.
And if he wasn't on the tennis court, Wade might have been belting out a tune with the Joy Singers Choir. Or writing poems for friends and family. Or teaching an adult education class on 3-D photography. Or paddling the Milwaukee River in a canoe he built himself, christened the "Well Made" (by Mel Wade).
He also designed his family's cottage in Three Lakes. Then he built it.
"He was a lifelong learner," his son, Dave Wade, said. "He was just multitalented"
Mel Wade died Jan. 14 of a stroke at an area hospital. He was 83.
Wade was also a die-hard Badgers football fan, having graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had season tickets for many years.
Dave Wade recalled taking his father to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl in 1994.
After Wisconsin beat UCLA, Wade told his son, jokingly, "I can die now."
Of course, that was 20 years and many tennis leagues ago.
A consummate league organizer and fixture on the tennis scene on the North Shore, Wade relished the company and competition the sport brought to his life.
He also was a man who played through his injuries.
"Over the last 10 to 20 years, we'd hear about his sore back or sore knees," said friend and fellow tennis player Mark Loomis, 76, of Shorewood. "But damned if he wouldn't play through it."
While certainly a competitor — he was a 13-time state tennis champion in the Senior Olympics — Wade also saw sports and recreation as a way to connect with people. He was the director of recreation and adult education at Nicolet High School for 34 years, starting in 1956, the year it opened.
Wade's wife of 58 years, Bette, started teaching English at Nicolet that same year. She later became the school's Title I program director.
"He was a spark plug," friend Roger Stafford, 72, of Mequon said. "Mel was the guy that got the game together, that got the organization going."
Stafford said Wade's dedication was contagious.
"A lot of people were kept playing tennis by Mel and his organization," he said. "He was a testimony that you can keep on going."
Getting people together around tennis ran in his veins. He developed the Nicolet Tennis Club, and in 2002 he won the Wisconsin Tennis Association's Bill Letwin Award, which recognizes dedication and service by Wisconsin tennis players and coaches.
Wade played in leagues regularly until a year ago, when he wasn't physically able to take the court. He still was a fixture at Elite Sports Club in Glendale, where he organized and played in many leagues.
Wade also used sports as a way to pass on lessons to his children. Dave Wade recalled when, at age 14, his dad let him take the reins of a youth baseball team.
"He let me do the lineup and develop the strategies," Wade said. "I thought that was a pretty cool thing for a dad to do. The fact he let me do that and coached with me basically developed my life."
Dave Wade said those lessons, and many others learned from his father, helped him and his two other brothers, Bruce and Dan, lead successful lives.
"He was just a really good father, his kids are successful, his grandkids are successful," he said.
Just ask Loomis. Mel Wade gave him a DVD of Homestead High School football highlights from last fall. Wade's grandson, Eric, was a standout running back for Homestead and made first team All-Conference in the North Shore.
"He was very partial to his grandchildren," Loomis said with a laugh.
"My dad went to all the games. He loved it," Dave Wade said. "He just went out seeing his grandson have all the success."
The leagues Wade organized will continue even though he's gone, Stafford said.
"But it won't be the same without Mel for a lot of us."
Besides his son and wife, Wade is survived by two brothers, Alan and Warren; sons Bruce and Dan; and seven grandchildren.
Melvin 'Mel' Wade
Funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at United Methodist Church, Whitefish Bay, 819 East Silver Spring Drive. Visitation will be at the church from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Monday. Memorials to the Mel and Bette Wade Scholarship Fund (to help students in need), 6922 W. Lantern Lane, Mequon, WI 53092, are suggested.
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