Anyone in Sedona who wants to have a few words with Twyla Langenberg has to be fast on their feet.
After two hours of tennis at the Radisson Poco Diablo resort on Tuesday morning, the 88½-year-old dynamo had only a few minutes for an interview before she was on to her next assignment for the day.
Setting down her purple 3.8 Sledge Hammer racquet for a moment and straightening the hot pink tongues on her K-Swiss tennis shoes, the former schoolteacher described briefly her life to date, one that epitomizes the phrase “carpe diem.”
Growing up on a farm in the hills of Greensburg, Pa., Langenberg thought it would be nice if her father used a corner of their property to build the family a tennis court.
He never did, but whenever there was the opportunity to hit a few balls with her friends in town, she always said yes.
As graduation from high school loomed, she thought long and hard about what to do next.
“I wanted to go to college, but my parents couldn’t afford it,” Langenberg said. “Since I couldn’t see any future staying around town, I joined the Navy where I was a WAVE and a storekeeper which meant I took care of the payroll.”
While stationed at the base on Lido Beach in Long Island, the new recruit was given a tennis racket by a friend, the two of them playing on the athletics fields when they were off duty.
Being so close to New York, she also took advantage of the train, riding into the city where she went to every play and musical she could find.
After her stint in the Navy was up, she looked toward Boston, attending New England Conservatory where she studied violin.
“I didn’t do so well there, but my best friend from the Navy, Rosalie Davidson, was going to Denver University and she said it was a good school and she wanted me to come out there, so I transferred,” Langenberg said.
Majoring in home economics, she earned her undergraduate degree, then went on to graduate school in Wisconsin.
“I spent a year there before transferring to the University of Illinois where I got a master’s degree in food and nutrition,” she said.
Marriage and a family of two girls and two boys followed.
When the children were old enough to be in school all day, she went back to the University of Illinois, earning a teaching certificate for elementary school.
That led to positions in Decatur, Ill. where she taught fifth grade for 10 years and third grade for five.
In the meantime, one of her own children enrolled at Northern Arizona University, making Flagstaff and Sedona prime destinations for family vacations.
When her second husband retired from the Caterpillar Corp., the couple didn’t have to think twice before moving to the Village of Oak Creek.
Since her husband was an avid golfer, Langenberg focused her attention on the tees and greens, playing with him most late afternoons and in the Niners for years as well.
But, in 1985, when Yavapai College offered tennis classes at Bell Rock Inn, she returned to the sport she always wanted to play, exchanging her clubs for a racket.
“It felt pretty natural,” she said.
Since then, she’s become a regular at Poco where she was named Player of the Year in 2008.
“It’s a wonderful place to play; everyone greets you by name and they always seem genuinely happy to see you,” Langenberg said.
Resident tennis pro Packy Baker explained why.
“All I can say is Twyla is extremely professional on the court at all times,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to play with her.”
Formerly a sports agent and an avid tennis player and a fellow member at Poco, Mel Levine agreed.
“Twyla always has a happy face,” Levine said. “She loves people. She loves the game. She couldn’t be a better ambassador for the sport.”
In addition to playing tennis at least twice a week, and four times when enough players can be found, the grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of three belongs to Friends of the Forest.
One of her duties as a Friend is staffing the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center south of the Village where she works the counter, greeting tourists and campers and advising them on what’s best to do in the red rocks.
Come autumn, she’ll be back working with students at her regular twice-a-week math and reading tutoring gig at Big Park School.
“I don’t know where I get the energy, but my mother lived to be 104,” Langenberg answered to a question. “Maybe I inherited her genes.”