Bowling alley ends run on National Bowling Day
As fate would have it, Iola would lose its only bowling alley on National Bowling Day. Country Lanes officially closed its doors on Saturday, giving patrons one last chance to bowl a game or purchase some memorabilia.
Bowling pins were going 10 for $30, while bowling balls were going for $5 apiece.
Everything was for sale, but nobody could snag the memories that several of the regulars shared on this afternoon.
Elsie Weast, 78, of Iola had been a regular since 1977. She was inducted into the Country Lanes Hall of Fame back in 2014.
Mitch Valentine and Elsie Weast of Iola, share memories at the closing of Country Lanes bowling alley Saturday. Weast has been a regular at the bowling alley since 1977. REGISTER/ERIC SPRUILL
“I have a lot of great memories here. My husband passed away in 1993 and I had actually started competing in the national tournament back in 1991. I had a group of about five girls I would bowl with every week out here and I would go to the tournaments with them. This game and these friends took me a lot of places that I never would have gone had it not been for this place here,” Weast said. “I played in two leagues on Wednesday nights for many years here. Made a lot of memories with the people here.”
Anna Whittley and her mother, Phylis Nelson, took in the sights and bowled much of the afternoon together.
“I started bringing her here on Saturday mornings when she was just a little girl. Saturday mornings used to be big days for the kids. These lanes would be filled,” Phylis said.
“I think I was around 10 years old when I started coming here and then we started competing in tournaments,” Anna added.
Owner Jim Valentine, who sold the building to Harvest Baptist Church last month, said league numbers had begun to dwindle.
“The heart and soul of this place was always the bowling leagues. The numbers started dropping around five years ago. It made it a struggle to stay open when we lost them. It made it where we had to rely on public play,” Valentine said. “They (league members) were our regulars, but a lot of them started getting up there in age.”
Coyt Whittley, age 4, lifts a bowling ball half his size.
“It’s sad, really. People now don’t want any commitments. They don’t want to commit to anything or feel obligated to have to go to anything. Families don’t feel the need for physical interaction anymore. Everything they want is on their phones.”
Country Lanes rates remained low despite those climbing rates around the country. It is common for two games along with shoe rentals for two people to average around $40.
Not in Iola.
“You could take a family of four out and bowl two games for that here,” Jim said. “I raised the rates as little as I could. When we got here games cost $1.50. Today it costs $3, shoes cost $2.”
One of Jim’s favorite memories was bowling a 300.
“I started coming out here when I was 8 years old, I am 34 now. We grew up here playing on these lanes,” Mitch said. “One of my favorite days is when me and dad rolled a 297 on the same day.”
Though bowling has been a huge part of Jim’s life, he has vowed to not play the sport for the next year.
“He plans on fishing and hunting more,” girlfriend Cathy Howard said. “And since I have cancer, he also plans on helping take care of me. But he says he isn’t going to bowl for a year.”
Valentine confirmed that plan.
Country Lanes held its grand opening on Oct. 15, 1961. It held its grand finale on Aug. 10, 2019, on National Bowling Day. The day bowling left Iola.