Sharon Wannamaker recalls feeling nerves the first night bowling in the Lutheran Mixed league four years ago.
She began bowling in 1988, so she was well-practiced in the sport itself. But like the first day at a new school, the unfamiliarity of a new group of people was, in many ways, uncomfortable.
That was until a gentleman approached her, introduced himself as “Rick” and gave a warm-hearted welcome to the league.
For Wannamaker, who has played in a few different bowling leagues over the years, the gesture went a long way — even when she later learned that Rick was a church greeter. (“That’s what he does!” she said).
“I’ll always remember that,” Wannamaker said. “That was really cool. I really thought a lot of it.”
The gesture was extended by Rick Hauser, a Hockinson resident who is a member of the Lutheran Mixed bowling league, which is celebrating its 60th year. On Monday nights from September to May, the group meets at Allen’s Crosley Lanes.
What began in 1959 as a Lutheran league has, over time, included many others in Clark County. On any given week, they can be seen playing among the backdrop of galaxy murals on Crosley’s walls, some enjoying coffee, others beer and some, tater tots.
Nowadays the youngest members are in their 30s, the oldest in their 80s.
What has kept the league together over the course of multiple generations?
Ask the members and they’ll give you two words: fellowship and fun.
“This isn’t a typical cutthroat league like some of the money leagues are,” longtime member Ray Tokola, 76, said. “We’re here to have fun and socialize fellowship.”
Whenever someone bowls a string of strikes, word travels quickly and most of the group will gather around the lane to watch closely.
And over the years — and now, decades — longtime members can recount moments and stories that have become somewhat legendary.
There was Archie Johnson, a man who threw more 300 games in his 80s than any of the younger guys, according to longtime member Harry Wiebold, a 61-year-old who joined the league when he was 18.
Or there was the elderly lady who, some members guessed, was in her 90s and would make her throw, turn around and forget to throw again.
“They’d have to turn her around and send her back” for her second throw, Wiebold said.
Wiebold recalls one old-timer who, any time someone bowled over a 200 — a very solid score by most bowling standards — would chirp “where did you screw it up?” Instead of saying “nice game.”
But perhaps the most remarkable tale was that of Clarence Moore, who according to Wiebold, owned Moore’s Radio and TV in Vancouver in the 1950s. In the 1970s, Moore was blind, but still wanted to bowl, so he put his bowling ball under a heater so he could feel which one was his.
Wiebold has bowled since he was a young child when his grandmother, Wilma Wiebold, introduced him to the sport. Wilma Wiebold, who died in 2003 at age 106, bowled until she was 95 years old. According to The Columbian archive, she even won bowling tournament at age 93.
Today the league has roughly 32 members. Over the years it’s had as many as 16 teams. Four years ago, Wannamaker’s Monday Mixers — “mixed” or “mixers” refers to the league being coed — saw low registration, and asked the Lutheran Mixed if it would be willing to absorb it.
“I knew the secretary and we said, ‘we’re not all Lutherans, but could you have a league meeting and see if we could join you guys?’ ” Wannamaker said. “And they did and accepted us and the rest is history.”
According to Wiebold, it’s the camaraderie that keeps the league going after all these years.
“You might say we’re the most competitive because we’ve got shirts,” Hockinson resident Becky Vierck said. “We’re big Lebowski fans.”
Becky Vierck, Vince Vierck and Rick Hauser — who all live in Hockinson — purchased the bowling shirts from the movie “The Big Lebowski” online. It’s the group’s uniform each Monday, and something they say shows how “none of us take it really too seriously.”
Roberta Green, the program director/league coordinator at Crosley Lanes, still has the towel Lutheran Mixed made in commemoration of its 50th year hanging in her office — it is black and featured embroidered bowling pins.
After all these years, Green has seen many of the same names and faces return each week.
The longest standing league member is 78-year-old Larry Kytola.
Kytola was introduced to bowling in his high school P.E. class, and began bowling seriously shortly after graduating from Battle Ground High School in 1958. He was a member of the league in its early years and believes he’s been in the league now for 58 years, if he doesn’t count the year and a half he missed surrounding open heart surgery he underwent in 2000.
According to Kytola, his highest average was 180, though nowadays he says it’s lower. That doesn’t stop him from coming out each week.
“I’ll just keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “As long as you can stand on your feet and roll a ball, you (can bowl).”
At the league’s season-ending get together four years ago, Wannamaker approached Hauser and told him how much greeting her on the first day meant to her.
Admittedly, it made Hauser blush.
“It’s what I do,” he told her.
As a greeter at Bethel Lutheran Church, it literally is what he does. But more importantly, Hauser said, the welcoming aspect is what defines the league.
“Nobody takes this too seriously,” Hauser said. “Nobody gets bent out of shape when you lose. Everyone shakes hands when we’re done and we root for each other.”