Alumni Profile: Lara (Mack) Tennant '84

Alumni Profile: Lara (Mack) Tennant '84
Written by: Kate (Benz) Bethell '03

With now decades of girls’ sports racking up conference and state championships and handfuls of successful female student athletes heading off to college on athletic scholarships, it’s probably hard for today’s Central Catholic students to imagine being one of the first at either of these things. But for Lara (Mack) Tennant ’84, starting the girls’ golf team (yes, starting!) and earning a scholarship to continue playing the game at the University of Arizona are just two of the trailblazing accomplishments she realized as a Ram. Yet, it’s the intangibles— like vivid memories and the familial sense of community—that this humble Central Catholic alumna recounts when asked about her time as a Ram.

Lara entered the doors at 24th and Stark in 1980, a member of the first co-ed freshman class. Aside from a couple dozen sophomore girls, including Tennant’s sister Renée (Mack) Baumgartner ’83, these ladies walked the halls alongside all-male junior and senior classes.

Though there was a bit of resistance to going co-ed, Tennant said the atmosphere ushered in many new traditions—from simple things like celebrating birthdays in the cafeteria and bringing banners to football games—to the first Sadie Hawkins dance. Without a doubt, the girls brought school spirit, something Tennant said was needed.

“It was a very exciting time at Central,” she said, “I think we females brought a lot of enthusiasm and spirit to the school that probably wasn’t there when we first arrived. I don’t think the faculty and the staff and the older boys were actually ready for all that we wanted to do at the school.”

One of the things Tennant and her sister wanted was a golf team. Born into a golf family, it seemed only natural that the Mack sisters would be able to compete against other high school girls in the sport they loved.

“My sister and I went in to the athletic director, who at the time was Tom Welter, and we told him we wanted to have a girls’ golf team,” Tennant said. “And he said, ‘No, our plans are just to have volleyball, basketball, and softball.’”

The girls were adamant, and Welter told them they could form a golf team if they found a coach and three additional players. Tennant said they found a golf coach in their English teacher, Tim Ramstad, and three more girls to round out their required five. In their first year as a team, they finished sixth at state. The next year, they finished second, and during Tennant’s junior year, they won state. Three years into a program that wasn’t even in the plans, the girls’ golf team brought home the first state championship victory, across any sport, since 1958.
“I’ll never forget the assembly they had for us after we won the state title,” Tennant said. “Kids had skipped school to come watch us, and their photos were in the newspaper and they got in big trouble, but it was a big deal. And if we hadn’t walked into our athletic director’s office that freshman year and pretty much insisted we have a golf team, who knows when Central would have won another state title.”

Tennant recalls moments of her time at Central with such vibrancy and descriptiveness it almost transports you back to the hallways in the 1980s.

“Another memory is when our volleyball team was playing St. Mary’s—and back then St. Mary’s was dominant in volleyball. The football team left practice early and came in and cheered us on—and we took [St. Mary’s] to the third set and hardly lost. But I’ll never forget all the football players cheering ‘WE ARE C-C,’ and the St. Mary’s girls being very intimidated by that. Of course, it was in the Old Gym, and the gym was pretty much full for just a volleyball game. And the football team never would have [left practice] and cheered on the men’s soccer team. So just things like that brought so much enthusiasm. It was very fun.”

Tennant graduated from Central Catholic as a decorated student and multi-sport athlete and continued to excel at University of Arizona where she was an Academic All-American on the golf team. She said she saw what the life of a professional golfer looked like and knew she had different desires and ambitions, including being a stay-at-home mom. However, before meeting her husband, Bob, (whose brother set them up on a blind date playing golf) and moving back to Portland to raise a family, Tennant served as the head women’s golf coach at the University of Oregon, another outstanding accomplishment on her résumé.

Tennant said her desire to compete motivated her to keep playing golf, and her love of the game inspired her to dedicate countless volunteer hours to the Oregon Junior Golf Association, which she chairs. With support and encouragement from her husband, she entered tournaments here and there during the early years of raising their five children, R.J., Michelle, Matthew, and twins Caroline and Grace—now ranging in ages from 17 to 23.

As a side note, and a testament to the unbiased heart of Msgr. Timothy Murphy ’58, when the Tennants’ oldest child was debating where to attend high school, he chose Jesuit which is where Lara’s husband, Bob, went to school. But when the next Tennant in line wanted to attend Central Catholic, Lara called Msgr. Murphy for his advice, and he advised her not to split up their family. This was selfless and life-changing guidance according to the Tennants. Because of that urging, their children had a shared experience that wouldn’t have been possible while attending different schools.

When all of Lara’s kids were either college or high school age, she found herself with the time for focused practice—and coincidentally, she turned 50, which classified her as a senior golfer.

“I started practicing a lot more, and I actually improved and started competing more just to get prepared for senior golf, and it all kind of came together,” she said. “I think because of my ability to still compete every so often over the last 20 years while I was raising my kids, that kept me ‘good enough’ to take a hold of the game and get better, and become a good senior golfer.”

Lara is more than just a good senior golfer. Last year alone, she won the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur title, as well as the Oregon Mid-Amateur Championship—and she made the first-ever hole-in-one at the US Senior Women’s Open pro tournament.

For someone so dedicated to her family, it was fitting that at the USGA championship, Lara’s father, George Mack ‘57, caddied for her—giving him the best seat in the house to watch his daughter achieve a lifelong goal. “Winning a USGA championship was a dream come true,” she said. “Having my dad on the bag made it even more special. My dad is such a great competitor and golfer himself. It was a unique and special week for us.”

When asked about what drives her, Lara said she can trace her ambition back to Central Catholic. “For one thing, as it relates to our golf team at Central, we had such a fabulous coach,” she said. “He really taught us how to set goals and how to work toward those goals incrementally—and have the vision to imagine winning a state championship. And I think he really taught us [how to] apply all of those skills to everyday life, whether it’s my golf tournaments or how I raise my children or how I help with Junior Golf. I think that was a critical time to learn how to set goals. And even if you don’t reach them, we were taught just to keep working hard and that hard work will always pay off.”

In addition to the lessons she learned on the links, Tennant said she’d be remiss if she didn’t mention the outstanding community that continues to characterize Central Catholic. Shortly after graduating and while Tennant was in college, her sister Missy died while a student at Central Catholic; an unthinkable loss that not only shook, but also united, those connected to the school.

“It’s hard to describe how much the community really lifted our family up and wrapped their arms around us and helped us through the most horrible time in our lives,” she said. “And Msgr. Murphy was a critical piece of that puzzle and has always been such a great support to my family and extended family. I’ll always be indebted to Central Catholic and the community for really being there, and I think that really defines Central and the community. It’s just a place that people can return to, and feel comfortable, and can count on to be there for them.”

Likewise, the CC community will always be indebted to pioneering female students like Lara (Mack) Tennant who unknowingly created an energetic and inclusive community where you can be and do just about anything you set your mind to. No matter the outcome, an extended family of Rams will be cheering one another on from near and far.