Puddie Eason Ruff taught tennis to generations of Northeast Mississippi children, many of whom went on to play at the collegiate and professional levels. As a coach at Tupelo High School, Ruff claimed 150 wins and just six losses. She was named National Tennis Coach of the Year in 1984.
Ruff so loved the sport that when she died two years ago at 84, her family asked that well-wishers send memorials to the Tupelo Sports Council to help renovate and maintain Tupelo's tennis infrastructure.
Today, family and friends will ask the community to honor Ruff again by donating to the pavilion that soon will bear her name.
A fundraiser is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Elkin Place in Fairpark featuring heavy hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, a slide show and several speakers. There's no admission to the event, but donations are gladly accepted, said Jeff Caldwell, Tupelo Tennis Association president and fundraising organizer.
"Puddie basically gave a lot of her life toward ... tennis," said Caldwell, who took lessons from Ruff when he was young. "But on top of just being a tennis coach, she was just a good role model. Puddie cared more about the person and the individual becoming a better person in life off the tennis court than on the tennis court."
The city started construction this spring on the $108,000 tennis pavilion. Located at Rob Leake City Park overlooking the tennis courts, the two-story pavilion will serve as an observation deck and tournament headquarters.
Funding for the project comes from a five-year-old bond issue and from the Tupelo Tennis Association, which already raised $10,000 and plans to raise an additional $10,000 with help from today's fundraiser.
Century Construction won the bid and should be finished by the time Tupelo hosts the state tennis tournament in September.