R.L. Johnson still remembers the first time he saw a bowling alley.
Decades ago, there were no machines to set the pins after every bowl, nor were there computers to calculate the score. Players had to do it manually on paper.
“I used to set pins and I thought it would be good to learn how to bowl,” Johnson recalled. “I set pins in two alleys and jumped lanes. Everything has changed … the ball material, the lane material, the equipment. We used to keep our own scores.”
Johnson (90) is one of four 90-and-older seniors still bowling in Fallon as Lu Demers (93), Al Shields (91) and Betty Fudge (90) continue to frequent Oasis Bowl on a weekly basis including the Seniors League on Monday afternoons.
But don’t let their age fool you. They can still roll.
Shields has bowled for about 40 years and has lived in Fallon for almost 44 years after coming to town to open Western Auto. His business used to sponsor his team and he joined the Fallon Match Club, in which he still bowls.
“I got into bowling because I thought it would be nice to meet people and get into the community,” said Shields, who also fought in World War II while serving in the 10th division of the U.S. Navy.
Fudge wanted to bowl because it got her out of the house. But that spark of interest grew into a flame that would lead to competing in leagues and 27 state tournaments.
“I got into bowling because of my husband starting bowling,” said Fudge, who bowled with Barney Fritz, the original owner of Oasis Bowl, in 1959.
That first encounter at the bowling alley, though, would eventually lead to Fudge becoming a regular in leagues when she used to compete in the Desert Ladies and her team was sponsored by Winans Furniture. She also competed on the Fallon Match Club, which traveled throughout the state, as well as California and Oregon.
“I got lots of trophies from them,” Fudge said about her league experience.
Demers’ passion for sports drove her to have a strong bowling career.
“I’m a sports nut. It came natural to me,” said Demers, who grew up as a Packers fan but now roots for the 49ers. “Unfortunately, no one told me how to throw the ball so I palmed it.”
Growing up back East, Demers moved to Fallon 34 years ago after living in San Jose where her husband was stationed in the Air Force.
“We knew each other down there. It was something to do,” Demers said about bowling on the military base. “We were the only people in the group who had bowled before.”
After coming to Fallon, Demers participated in a handful of leagues including Queen Pins on Friday nights, Senior Swingers and Fallon Match Club. Demers’ highest score in her career came when she bowled a 234 but her average hasn’t dipped much as she bowled a 171 last year.
“It’s nice to be with people,” Demers said. “I live for sports. I played everything from hockey to basketball.”
Both Demers and Fudge were also recognized for their achievements in bowling and are part of the Hall of Fame for the Fallon Bowling Association and United States Bowling Congress.
For Johnson, he’s also a military veteran after serving with the U.S. Marines for 21 years and 6 months. He took up bowling 70 years ago and bowled in the Senior Swingers and Tuesday Night Best leagues after moving to Fallon in 1992.
“The camaraderie, the friendship with people, the environment is nice, and the exercise,” Johnson said about what he enjoys most about bowling. “And smoking cigars and drinking beer.”
Outside of competing in leagues, Johnson was fortunate enough to play with a professional, Peter Webber, who gave him some pointers.
“He gave me a lot of good information and told you what you did wrong, if you asked,” Johnson remembered.
The advice worked for Johnson, whose highest score was a 299. But even to this day, Johnson still remembers vividly what happened on that lane.
“It was the 8 pin, the third game on Lane 4,” said Johnson, who’s also an avid golfer. “The 8 pin wobbled and I’m jumping. But, I got a ring.”
While Johnson had an experience for the ages, both with coming one pin shy of a perfect game and meeting a professional bowler, Demers tried to one-up her fellow senior bowler.
Demers, a retired registered nurse who also volunteered at the medical clinic at Naval Air Station Fallon until she was 90, traveled to Grass Valley, Calif., for a Match Club over a weekend and found herself in an unusual predicament.
“We got rooms reserved and each room has a different theme. Our room was taken so we got put into the honeymoon suite,” said Demers, who was single at the time. “That’s my favorite moment.”
Fudge, who was a board member and secretary during her time, said her best moment came when she qualified for nationals and traveled to Toledo, Ohio.
“Going to Toledo. It was quite an honor,” said Fudge, whose highest average was a 152. “I got lots of pins and awards.”
For Shields, though, his modesty got the best of him and his friend was quick to intervene. Shields, whose highest score is 225, wasn’t sure about his average and guessed.
“About 147,” Shields said.
“He’s better than that,” Johnson followed.
For these four seniors, they continue to live actively in the community, bowling every week and proving that they still got it.
And they do.