Bowled over: Memories of a lifetime on the lanes
By Marv Kohlbeck
It recently crossed my mind that about 70 years ago I obtained my Social Security card by taking a bowling alley job as a pin setter. Back in the ‘50s, our small-town bowling house operator did not have electric automatic pinsetters but hired young guys who were willing to “sit in the pit” and jump two lanes to pick up pins and toss them in a rack to reset them. We earned some spending money and numerous leg bruises. Even today, at age 85, I am still involved in bowling.
Currently as a member of the Pittsville Lions Club, I am one of the many volunteers from four area clubs that are hosting the state Lions bowling tournament at Rose Bowl Lanes in Marshfield. It was 11 years ago that Lions from Stratford, Pittsville, Auburndale, and Rozellville coined the phrase “Knock Out Blindness” by using the first letter of each community to form the word SPAR. As people relate the word “spar” to boxing, a souvenir pin was developed in the form of a boxing glove with the slogan printed on it to tie it to one of the Lions’ major efforts: to help the visually handicapped.
That major fundraiser held in 2007 at Rose Bowl Lanes bound members of these clubs closer together, and once again, 10 years later, those same clubs are presently hosting the state Lions bowling tournament at Rose Bowl Lanes.
Even though vision and stability no longer enable me to bowl, I love the sport, and often it causes me to reflect back on more active days when I participated.
Setting pins was a welcome college job that I enjoyed doing for four years to earn extra spending money.
Bowling in a league really got me involved while serving in the military in Germany in 1955-1956. In fact, my best buddy and I represented our post at a military bowling tournament in Garmisch, Germany.
Two military bowling memories have stuck with me. When I released the first ball in the Garmisch tournament, I slipped on the floor, slid across the foul line, and landed on my rear end. Secondly, although I was just an average 170 bowler, I did bowl the highest game on the military post alley in June 1955. My single game score of 246 earned me a used pin with a wooden plate on it stating it was the highest single score bowled that month. I have gone downhill ever since, but it stands out among lesser trophies that I have received.
Upon returning from service and settling in the Pittsville area in 1956, I stayed involved in league bowling on different teams until heart surgery brought on retirement in 2005.
Nearly 50 years of bowling never saw my average reach levels over 175, but it was the binding relationship developed between team members and the competitive bowlers that created lifetime friends and memories. Even to this day I occasionally meet guys that I bowled against at Bowlmor and Gritz Lanes in Wisconsin Rapids, Evergreen Lanes in Nekoosa, or in later years at Rose Bowl Lanes in Marshfield.
Being active as a Lions Club member, I have accumulated a wide selection of collector’s pins of other clubs, state conventions, and state bowling sites. My collection of souvenirs pins from state Lions bowling tournaments began in 1978 in Green Lake and includes pins from all corners of the state in which our Lions teams bowled. Naturally, my favorite pins are from the years that our SPAR teams hosted in 2007 and now in 2017.
My summary of such involvement as a host would be that participation means fun, hopes of winning, opportunity to meet new friends, and to support the efforts of the host clubs as they endeavor to raise funds to meet their budgetary needs to fight blindness.