From left, Ted Close, Clive Wells and Dr. Joel Wells. Close is holding award bowling pins from past victories. Not pictured, Dr. Larry Royer.
The wind chill outside is below zero, but inside Bowling Green Lanes in Corydon, Clive Wells, 82 years old, eats a tenderloin and waits for his son, Dr. Joel Wells of the Wayne County Hospital to get off work.
“He usually gets here about 7 o’clock,” Clive says of his son. “He has, a few times, had to leave to deliver a baby.”
The bowling alley has not changed much in décor over the past couple of decades, though ownership has changed hands several times. John and Wanda Johnson are the current owners. The only significant alteration implemented is an electronic scoring system in place of pencil and scorecard.
Across from Clive Wells sits Ted Close, who turns 90 on Feb. 20. He wasn’t sure at first he wanted to celebrate his 90th birthday, but his daughters insisted he have a party.
“I guess I’m never going to be 90 again,” Close explains.
The other member of their team is Dr. Larry Royer, a retired veterinarian, the second youngest bowler among them at 76.
The league has grown since the closure of the bowling alley in Chariton. One bowler that has since retired from the team is 92-year-old Koran Brees. Perhaps an unwritten rule is that this is an under-90 league.
“He was a nice fellow,” Clive Wells says. “He threw a nice ball.”
Unless their league games are cancelled, expect to see the quartet aiming at strikes each Wednesday night during winter. It would take a blizzard to keep them off of the lanes.
All four graduated from Seymour Community High School—Clive Wells’ four boys graduated from Seymour. Two of his sons farm in Wayne County. He’s been bowling since the 1960s. One of Clive’s sons got Close started with the game.
“I used to bowl a lot better than I do now,” Clive Wells says. “We do it for the exercise. It’s a handicap league. They’ve always kept a good, clean bowling alley here [at Bowling Green Lanes].”
“I keep telling my four daughters that I’m going to quit bowling,” Close says. “But they say, ‘Dad, that’s good exercise. Just keep going. Don’t worry how much you make, or anything. Go and have fun.’ It surely must be, because I don’t bowl very well anymore. We don’t pay much attention to who wins or loses. We don’t throw our caps down the alleyway or throw a fit.”
“We have a high age, but not a high average,” Clive Wells adds.
Dr. Wells attends for the camaraderie with family and friends:
“It’s a night with me and Dad together,” he says. “And I like to bowl. There’s not much else to do in winter. It makes the winter go quicker.
“You think, ‘I can get this’ or ‘I know what I’m doing,’ and then you have a bad run. It’s like anything else. It only takes one good night to get you through a bunch of bad ones.”
Their league runs from September until April. Lockridge Lumber Company, Inc. now sponsors their team.
Dr. Wells graduated from Seymour in 1979, and went to high school and college with the current Indian Hills Community College president, Dr. Marlene Sprouse. They ate breakfast together at Truman State University in Kirksville, when Dr. Wells was an underclassman. He began bowling in 1989, the same year that he started practicing medicine at WCH. He reports his high score for one game as a little over 230. That came earlier this season.
“If all of us were doing good, that would be quite a night,” Dr. Wells says. “It doesn’t happen very often. It’s still a competition. We don’t mind losing, but it’s fun to try and win. And you’ve got a handicap, so you could bowl against a good bowler and have a chance.”
Distractions are sometimes hard to come by in small towns, especially for the older crowd. In the past, ice skating rinks and roller skating rinks were common in the area. That was part of the socialization of their era. At one time, there was an ice skating rink in Moravia and a roller skating rink in Centerville and Promise City.
“My grandkids had to go clear to Oskaloosa to go to a skating rink,” Clive Wells laments. “There isn’t a skating rink around here anymore. I met my wife at the Cincinatti skating rink, at a dance.”
As well, Farm Bureau once sponsored a bowling tournament in Iowa. Teams would go to districts, which would be in towns like Albia or Knoxville. Clive Wells says that his team finished second one year at districts. If a team qualified, they would go on to state.
“The past four or five years, it’s been hard to keep the lanes filled,” Dr. Wells says. He hopes for bigger crowds in the future, and does not mind the competition.
In the 1950s, before the introduction of automated pin sweeps, Royer was a pinsetter in Illinois. He received 10 cents per lane. On the square in Centerville, there was once a four-lane bowling alley set by hand.
When Jim Zabel hosted the Channel 13 Sunday morning television program, 'Let’s Go Bowling,' Clive Wells appeared on TV a couple of times in the 1960s, to bowl on live television.
“That was a big deal for him,” Dr. Wells says.
'Let’s Go Bowling' was once a Sunday morning institution for many Iowans. The show has passed on, as has Jim Zabel.
“A while back, someone asked us why we bowled,” Royer says. “And I said, well, we don’t have much else. I said that we could stay home and pay $15 for a Viagra, or we could come and bowl for 12 and save three dollars.”
Regardless of icy roads or cold weather, Dr. Wells and his team will keep driving to Bowling Green Lanes to knock down pins and share laughs over tenderloins—as long as he doesn’t get called to the hospital to deliver a baby.