On a Friday afternoon, members of the Senior Rollers bowling league filled Husted’s Hazel Dell Lanes. Everyone bowling is at least 50 years old. Most are older.
John Hallett, at 93, is the oldest.
“He’s just … how do you describe it? I admire him,” said Dick Towner, 73, a fellow bowler. “He’s got a twinkle in his eye.”
Hallett, who now lives in Vancouver, bowls three days a week in different leagues, never missing a day.
His favorite part of bowling?
“Getting strikes,” he quipped.
He doesn’t like to be the center of attention and doesn’t talk about himself too much. But everyone at the bowling alley knows him.
“Just a sweetheart, such a nice man,” said Carole Hess, 75, who has been bowling with Hallett for a handful of years.
Slowly, over the years, snippets of his story have sneaked out.
“Of course, I love his Australian accent,” said Arlene Sedell, a fellow bowler.
Hallett was born in Atherton, Australia, in 1922. When he was 18, he enlisted in the Australian Army and spent three years in the Australian Tank Corps before transferring to the Royal Australian Air Force. Hallett was a tail gunner on a Handley Page Halifax bomber during World War II.
“I’m sure he has a lot of interesting stories to tell. Horrible position to be in, miracle he lived through it,” Sedell said.
Sitting in the back of a heavy bomber was a dangerous assignment.
“We were young,” Hallett said. “And when your name is on (the assignment) … why worry?”
Hallett, who used to be an avid cricket player in his younger days, picked up bowling relatively recently, about four years ago.
“You meet all kinds of nice people,” he said.
And if not for bowling, he would likely be at home, where he lives alone with his cat, Puddy Tat.
“I have nothing else to do,” he said, “And it gives me exercise.”
Hallett isn’t bowling his best this recent Friday afternoon; his body and the ball aren’t cooperating.
“All right, John,” Hess says, giving him some encouragement. “Sometimes he does really well. Like all of us, some days you either have it or you don’t.”
Hallett was young when his father died and he was shuffled around to live with different relatives as a child. Not long after serving in the air force, he returned to Australia. His future wife, an American he met at a dance for service members in New York City, followed not long after.
Hallett inherited a dairy farm in Australia, but after a prolonged drought, he sold the farm and moved to the United States.
He worked all over California as a finish carpenter, making furniture and installing Formica for schools and hospitals in Los Angeles.
He had two sons.
When his oldest son Mark Hallett was a child, his father would make small birds out of facial tissues, giving them to him before he would fall asleep for the night.
“I have a lot of good memories about him, he genuinely cared about us,” said Mark Hallett, who is a paleoartist in Oregon. “The main takeaway I feel about my dad is he instilled a sense of wonder about the world. … He made me think about nature.”
John Hallett divorced his first wife. He moved around, living internationally again.
He long dreamed of retiring to the Pacific Northwest and building his own home. In 1978, he bought 5 1/2 acres and built a large cabin himself in Mount Vernon, north of Everett.
He met his second wife. They married, divorced, remarried each other, only to recently divorce again.
“Lot of stuff in between, you know, but that’s life,” Hallett said.
Back on the lanes, I’Nita Hafley watched as Hallett picked up his bowling ball and walked to the lane.
“I watch him bowl and I say, ‘Oh yeah, I got to get my balance.’ He teaches you not to rush,” Hafley said.
Sedell, the league’s secretary, said Hallett is an inspiration.
“I hope I’m bowling when I’m his age,” she said.