University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 3/1996
Capturing the spirit of tennis in a museum
     When Melissa Hitchens Mulrooney, Delaware '77, stepped onto
the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum for 
the first time, her senses tingled with excitement.
     Emerging from an arched entryway, she marveled at the
meticulously manicured lawn tennis courts surrounded by elegant
Victorian, shingle-style architecture. Inside the museum
galleries, she ran her fingers across polished wooden display
cases filled with memorabilia, some of the items more than a 
century old.
     Mulrooney says she felt as though she had slipped through
time into a 19th-century sporting club. In fact, she had. The
Tennis Hall of Fame Museum is housed in the 1880 Stanford White
Complex that was once a fashionable social club in Newport, R.I.,
and site of the first U.S. Lawn Tennis Championships in 1881.
     "When I saw the facility, I was astounded," Mulrooney
recalls. "It was breathtaking, a reverent tribute to the sport."
     Today, the Hall of Fame Museum, while still capturing the
grand traditions of tennis history, has moved into the modern era
of multimillion-dollar purses and 100-mph serves.
     In October 1994, Mulrooney became director of the Tennis
Hall of Fame Museum in the midst of a major $7.5 million make-
over and immediately became involved in the project with all of
the spirit and enthusiasm she could muster. She had to.
     Within two weeks after starting the job, she was helping
plan the third and perhaps most ambitious phase of the
project-the development of contemporary galleries to capture the
character of tennis from 1968 to the present.
     "I was thrown right into getting to know the collections,
working with our exhibition design firm in Boston, meeting board
members and really immersing myself in the history of the sport,"
Mulrooney says, with no small amount of amazement that she made
it through.
     She not only survived; she thrived. Working long hours for
months, she helped put together acclaimed modern galleries that
feature a large-as-life video tennis match, video highlights from
Grand Slam events, a nine-screen video wall showcasing Davis Cup
and Olympic matches and push-button videos of other noteworthy
     While helping design and prepare the modern galleries for
last summer's opening, Mulrooney also assembled a special tribute
exhibition for tennis star Chris Evert, to commemorate her
induction last July into the Hall of Fame. Currently, Mulrooney
is involved in the fourth phase of the five-phase project.
     Ironically, Mulrooney wasn't sure she was right for the job
when she first heard about it.
     The Hall of Fame Museum initially had advertised for a
curator. Having worked at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington,
Del., for the previous 11 years, Mulrooney was interested, but
her expertise was not as a curator. At the museum, she had been
director of marketing communications, serving as the publications
director, press officer and community outreach liaison.
     After learning of her interest and background, the Hall of
Fame Museum recast the position. "My background fit what they
needed," Mulrooney says. "They wanted someone who could take them
through a major renovation project, was sensitive to museums and
had the enthusiasm and experience to develop an overall vision
for the Hall of Fame Museum."
     A theatre/performance major at Delaware, with a minor in
English literature and communication, she began her career in the
publishing business in Washington, D.C. After a year, she moved
into the advertising business in Wilmington as a writer and, for
many years, did radio and video advertising. Mulrooney says she
also has a special fondness for the University of Delaware, "a
family school" from which her parents, Howard B. Hitchens Jr. and
Joan England Hitchens, both Delaware '50, and brothers Sean
O'Casey Hitchens, Delaware '78, and the late Howard "Skip"
Hitchens, Delaware '72, graduated.
     As director of the Tennis Hall of Fame Museum, Mulrooney is
an integral player at a complex that also features a lawn tennis
club with such public events as concerts and tournaments. "I like
the multifaceted nature of the facility," she says.
     Mulrooney is a passionate tennis player and fan and says she
doesn't mind at all the opportunity to occasionally rub elbows
with some all-time great players, such as Rod Laver and Virginia
Wade. Her biggest thrill came when she escorted Chris Evert
through last year's tribute exhibition.
     "She was just delighted," Mulrooney recalls. "It was
overwhelming for her to see her whole career represented in our
gallery. She was very moved."
     If she has one regret, Mulrooney says it's that she isn't
able to play as much tennis as she would like.
     "Here I am at the cradle and shrine of American lawn tennis,
with 13 beautiful grass courts right out my door, and I didn't
play that much last season. I haven't had a lot of spare time in
this job, but it suits my nature to work under this kind of
pressure. This is truly one of the most exciting things I've ever
done in my career."
                                    -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83