On Being Grateful

Posted on June 11th, 2015 by

Our entire camp is focused on being grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we don’t have.
And one ten year old girl named Ellie reminded me powerfully of this yesterday.

ellie nixon

We gather each morning for the Thank You Bowl. Campers and instructors have spent the camp writing thank you notes to each other. Then we draw from the bowls three campers names and three instructors names each morning, and I read them to the camp as examples of how we can lift each other up. Everyone has a thank you in the bowl so it is not a contest, just a random drawing of the goodness we see in others.

As most of you know, we are grieving the loss of Steve Wilkinson as a friend, coach, teacher, and founder of TLC, and so are many of you. I have felt both sad and elated this camp seeing his spirit live on in the mission of TLC.

Yesterday, a camper reached into the bowl for the very first thank you of the summer and handed it to me to read. Stunned, I see….. Steve’s name.

Ellie wrote:

Dear Steve,
Thank you for creating TLC. I would not be here having so much fun while improving my game (without you). You are such an encouraging person.

Ellie focused not on Steve’s death, but on the life he still brings. So much so that she did not write, “You were an encouraging person,” but “You are an encouraging person.”

I looked around at the campers and staff and said, “There is nothing more beautiful than this thank you being the first of the summer. When Steve was dying and I asked him what I would do without him in my life, he said, ‘You’re not getting rid of me that easy. I’ll be there.”

And he is. In every smiley face Barb puts on the rackets, in every instructor who took TLC’s philosophy to heart, in every camper who has ever heard of The Three Crowns.

Am I sad? Yes. Am I elated? Yes. Is Steve here? Yes. Sometimes it takes a ten year old girl to help me see that. I am grateful.


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  1. Jennifer Kirby says:

    That gave me goosebumps. Thank you.

  2. Jeff Schultz says:

    My daughter is at camp right now ! I have been at camp in the past and loved every minute of it! I hope my daughter takes away tennis skills and life skills from this camp. I sacrificed my payment for camp to have her attend camp. After dropping her off, while driving home, I had time to reflect how much camp means to me, there was sadness and happiness in the atmosphere. It was difficult to separate these emotions. I did make the right decision on sending her, instead of me. She is wonderful and is the best daughter in the world! Have a great time at tennis camp! You deserve this! The instructors are so focus and very understanding!

    PS Wish I could put this in the compliment bucket!

  3. Margie Loprinzi says:

    How simply wonderful, what a legacy Steve has left for all of us!

  4. Debbie Curran McGarity '91 says:

    I just shared this blog post with my son, Jack (11), who will be traveling from NJ to MN in a few days for his first time at TLC! I spent the summer of 1989 at TLC as a dorm counselor (loved it!!), so I know drop off for me will be emotional as I reflect on my years on the Hill, my time at TLC, my friendship with my dear sweet friend and sorority sister Stephanie, Steve’s daughter, etc…. So much good from GAC, so much good from TLC, so much good from Steve! …how simply wonderful it all is!

  5. Molly says:

    Tennis and Life Camp fells like a home away from home. I can express my individuality without getting judged and I can trust that nobody will tease me or hurt my feelings. Sometimes, even at school with my friends, people will judge me for just being myself.
    When I am at Tennis and Life I feel like I am a better person. A person that is kind to all, and me myself won’t judge others as they won’t judge me. Everyone is so caring and kind at Tennis and life and everyone, not just Neal and Steve, reminds me that who I am, and who I hope to be, is determined by my attitude and kindness towards others.
    Last of all, at Tennis and Life, I feel like I always get a little extra TLC, no matter if it is from my family, the staff, or even a stranger, I always feel welcome and loved.


  6. peter whitis says:

    and the children shall lead. . .

  7. Chuck Nyman says:

    I think of Steve most days and how he lived his life with cancer. He has been an inspiration to me. I have had breast cancer for 8 years, the last 3-12 years in stage 4. I tell myself every time I get down that it’s all about gratitude and attitude. Steve talked about both a lot in his book. I had a bunch of t-shirts made up with 2 tennis rackets on front with the saying under that “Attitude is everything”. On the back I had printed, ” No white flags, No surrender”

    I am forever great full that I was able to attend the Tennis & Life camps for 5 years and be able to meet Steve and you Neal. You both have a big influence on my life.

    Chuck Nyman

  8. Jill Hayden says:

    Beautifully said Ellie ! Steve is a great inspiration & you are too !

  9. Don Holton says:

    Very touching, Neil. I am glad to have attended this evening to hear some of the stories about Steve. He is definitely one of a kind. What a wonderful man. We won’t forget him.

  10. David Peterson says:


  11. John Whitmer says:

    Sure looks like that 10 year old Ellie recognizes the important stuff and has her priorities in order. There’s no doubt Steve is with you folks and will be a lot longer than many if not most of us.

    Best wishes for TLC this year.

  12. Barb Dahlquist says:

    Beautifully written and I share that philosophy. My daughter’s good friend died of lymphoma at the age of 11 ( 24 years ago). I feel that the most important thing about Beth was that she lived and was a bright, funny, caring, faithful person. Not that she died at age 11.

  13. Bart Kosen says:

    A wonderful lasting legacy of how to live is why I come to TLC. Tennis is just the excuse to come here to be reminded of how to love and serve others and for that I am grateful.

  14. Meg says:

    Neal…are every one of these gonna elicit tears ? happy tears!

  15. Lori Wukawitz says:

    How fabulous to see the legend live on in such a beautiful and meaningful way! Me and my family are so excited to be a part of this for the FIRST time of many I hope.
    God bless!