Palace Bowl scores final strike
The thump of bowling balls landing on the wooden floor and the hollow clatter of falling pins mingled with the cackle of laughter and the shuffle of steps. It was business as usual at Palace Bowl.
For the last time.
On Aug. 31, the 10-year-old bowling alley marked its final day in business by offering free bowling and a catered lunch to members of one of its favorite bowling teams, the Senior Citizens Colored Pin League.
One of the 50 members attending the Palace's last hurrah was Lauren McClure, Lawrence, who scores an average of 140 points a game, despite being legally blind. McClure said he felt terrible about the closing of the business.
Where else could he go, he wondered?
Or where would he find a group of fellow bowlers like this?
"They've all been good about telling me what pins I had left and where the colored pins were," he said.
Ronnie Conrad, manager of the bowling alley, said the owners decided to shut down when the computerized score-keeping system wore out.
"It would take from $115,000 to $140,000 to replace it," he said.
Even though it was just a couple of decades ago that bowlers kept score with pencil and paper, Conrad said that wouldn't work today. "People don't want to do that any more," he said.
The bowling alley was started with backing from stockholders. Local businessman Charlie Ussery represents one of them. He agreed that the bowling alley is closing in part because of the need for renovation.
"Like any business, it requires certain updates and those come at a price," he said. "We just weren't able to keep up with it."
Ussery said he thought the stockholders hoped someone would come in and continue running the bowling alley.
"We do have a couple of leads of people who have actually shown interest in that," he said.
But if nobody saves the lanes, Ussery said, the closing of the bowling alley would be a sad thing for the community.
"I'm saddened by the fact that it's closing, especially for the seniors. Ronnie has told me that of all the people who had bowled there, the seniors had been the most supportive," Ussery said.
The alley also has been a boon for local youths. Ussery's son, Jeff, started out bowling there when he was 12, went on to become Kansas State Champion and competed on the national level. He now is a member of the Kansas University bowling team.
"Without the bowling alley being here, he probably wouldn't have been exposed to the sport," Ussery said.
Conrad said he, too, was sad about the bowling lane closing, especially for the senior citizens who have been bowling there every other Tuesday morning for more than four years.
"This is a group that no matter what rain, snow, sleet or shine, was always here," he said.
Merle Holladay, 94, a retired schoolteacher from Eudora, has been bowling at Palace Bowl since the senior league started.
"Oh, what are we going to do?" she asked, just before picking up her ball, sending it down lane and scoring a strike. The group cheered, and her sister Lucille Jackson, 83, who had driven up from Gardner, bragged on her sister's 148-point-per-game average. "She's already won $5 today," Jackson said.
Violet and Lloyd Richardson, McLouth, said the league is more than sport to them it's entertainment.
"We like being with these people down here and we just have the most fun," Violet Richardson said. "Ronnie and Bobby are cards. They just keep us laughing all the time."
"Bobby," otherwise known as Bob Jacobs, spends part of his time calling out scores on the loudspeaker. "These seniors are the best league and the most reliable," Jacobs said.
Conrad agreed."These are people who are aching and ailing, but they're here every week."
Even though it was their last day at the lanes, the bowlers seemed to be in good cheer.
Marie Baker, Kansas City, Kan., said the people all along have made it fun. The idea for free bowling and lunch wasn't bad either, she said.
McClure grinned from ear to ear as he agreed with Baker, "You can't beat that, can you?" he asked.