There was no screaming, victory dancing, or even wild applause. There were no bruises or scabs. As sports go, croquet might not have been typical. But neither was Harriet Peake.
Every warm-enough Tuesday night for two decades, Peake suited up in dainty white from head to toe and honed proper posture, vying for a trophy in one of the many croquet tournaments she played with the Tulsa Croquet Club.
The club was founded in 1988 by a group of enthusiasts, and Peake joined with her husband—a Harvard-trained minister who had established several congregations in Tulsa—a few years later.
“She was playing a bunch of different sports at the time,” club member Bob Baker said. “She was very competitive and active. Sometimes there were conflicts between croquet tournaments and other competitions she was supposed to be at, but she became very committed to croquet.”
Peake stuck with croquet and became one of the club’s most beloved members. In the tournament following her death, she was awarded the first place trophy posthumously. But Baker says she was no stranger to winning.
“Harriet got a lot of good practice in,” Baker said. “Here in Tulsa, we have one of the best croquet facilities in the country. We’re at LaFortune Park, which actually had a built-in croquet area from the beginning, in its original plans. We didn’t know about it until we started looking for a space, but it’s ideal.”
Club members consist largely of senior citizens who enjoy reminiscing about the simpler days, when every American lawn was decorated with colorful metal arches. But Baker says it’s an open club.
“Our club is not for children, but other than that, we’d love to have all ages, genders, and backgrounds. The nice thing about croquet is that there are no distinctions in the sport. Everybody plays together. There are handicaps to make it fair in many cases, but we’re all equal athletes.”
Baker says they play croquet “the England way,” with a traditional grassy set-up, high-quality mallets, and a strict dress code.
“Yeah, we still wear the traditional white. It’s the rules. Tennis used to be that way too, but they sold out. They got fancy.”
Peake’s enthusiasm was a hit with club members. Often, she’d bring her family and friends out to watch, or even participate.
“She brought out a lot of newcomers, and liked to welcome them in,” Baker said. “She was definitely outgoing and a lot of fun to have around. We threw her a birthday party not long ago.”
Croquet mallets can cost up to $1,000 or more, but that didn’t stop Peake from ordering a brand new one from New Zealand just last year, personalized with her name on it. She hoped it would become an heirloom for future generations.
“The club was really proud of her,” Baker said. “She was a big part of us.”