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Belle Plaine Bowling Alley looks back on 50 years

Recently recognized for their 50-year bowling careers at the Belle Plaine Bowl were (front, from left) Shirley Rieck, Fran Magdefrau and Gaynelle Van Gampleare. Back: Russ Rieck and Don Walton. Submitted photo
Owner Paul Nielsen stands in front of the newly opened Belle Plaine Bowl in this August 1959 photo. Business remains brisk 50 years later, with 35 adult and 24 youth teams on the bowling roster this year.
Spectators packed the Belle Plaine Bowl during grand opening activities that featured games between local bowlers and a top-rated Cedar Rapids team.  The identity of the bowler on the right is unknown.

A half-century after the Belle Plaine Bowl opened for business, five of its original bowlers are still going strong.

Shirley and Russ Rieck, Fran Magdefrau, Gaynelle Van Gampleare and Don Walton all joined leagues soon after the bowling alley opened in 1959 and have bowled there ever since.

They recently received plaques from their associations and the Belle Plaine Bowl in recognition of their 50-year milestone.

All say they’ve stuck with bowling because of the fun and friendships they’ve forged throughout the years.

“Just being with other people, that’s what counts, whether you bowl good or bad,” said Gaynelle Van Gampleare, a member of the Town and Country Wholesale team from the very beginning. She credits Town and Country Wholesale for being a dedicated sponsor all 50 years.

Gaynelle was secretary of the Bowl-ettes League for 25 years and received a lifetime membership when she retired from her duties in 1985. At 80 years young, Gaynelle has no plans to pack away her bowling shoes.

“If the Lord is willing, I’m willing. I’m fit and able and will hang in there,” she chuckled.

Shirley and Russ Rieck kept busy on several leagues the last five decades. Today they are active in the Tuesday evening mixed league. Shirley said being around people is her favorite part of bowling.

“Getting some exercise, too, and keeping limber at this age,” also keeps her at it.

The Riecks attended state and national tournaments in the past – Shirley attended three nationals in the last 10 years.

“We both enjoyed that and used to look forward to going to the state tournaments. A whole group of us would go every year, and we had fun,” Shirley said.

Russ goes to Reno, NV and Albuquerque, NM with a group of Keystone bowlers.

 “That’s the only way I get him to go on vacation,” Shirley laughed.

She has no plans to set her bowling ball aside and will continue the sport as long as her health and joints allow.

“If I didn’t bowl, I’d sit at home and wilt away,” Shirley chuckled.

Russ’ bowling future may depend upon the outcome of a second knee surgery scheduled this month, Shirley added.

Don Walton is still with the Monday Businessmen’s League he joined in 1959 and bowls Tuesday nights on the Star League.

He said he has lots of memories over the past 50 years, including going to state tournaments with Belle Plaine Bowl’s first owner, Paul Nielsen, and others during the early years. Team camaraderie keeps Walton bowling.

 “It’s always fun. Team members always stuck together and had fun,” he said. The team socialized outside of bowling and attended baseball games together.

Like the other 50-year honorees, Walton said he intends to bowl as long as he feels good.

Fran Magdefrau bowled on the Friday 10-Pins afternoon league until it disbanded. She said she was going to give up bowling until an invitation to join the Merry Mixers came her way. She’s been active with the Tuesday afternoon league ever since.

With young children at home during the early years, Fran enlisted the help of her mother-in-law to watch the youngsters while she bowled. Fran also provided daycare for over 30 years but still managed to bowl weekly.

“I sublet them,” Fran laughed about the arrangements she made for her charges. Betty Rabe, Alice Wiese and Flo Tippett all looked after the kids at different times so Fran could bowl.

Fran has many reasons for staying with the sport. “No. 1, it’s to support a business in Belle Plaine,” she said. Bowling has brought her some new, dear friends and the sport serves as a good “therapy session.”

She describes the Merry Mixers league as very unique, with bowlers spanning the generations, all eager to support their teammates.

 “If somebody picks up a good split or spare, everyone applauds,” she said.

After serving as a league officer for 40 to 50 years, Fran retired this year as secretary-treasurer.

She said the highlight of the years was attending state bowling tournaments and the many resulting antics that kept everyone laughing. “We would really have fun times,” she reminisced.

The Belle Plaine Bowl

The new, six-lane Belle Plaine Bowl opened for business Aug. 1, 1959, under the management of Paul Nielsen, who had led the high school band for 11 years.

The Belle Plaine Improvement Corporation owned the land and $75,000 building, which it leased to Nielsen for 10 years with an option to buy, according to a grand opening story published in The Belle Plaine Union Aug. 26, 1959.

With the exception of the pin spotters, Nielsen owned all the equipment. He told the Union the underground ball return was the only one of its kind in the area, except for Cedar Rapids.

The newspaper reported 462 people registered for the grand opening that featured a match game between professional bowler Leo Mann of St. Paul, MN and Belle Plaine football coach Doc Richards. Richards won two of the three games with a 534 series.

Five top local bowlers representing the new bowling alley took on one of the best teams in the Cedar Rapids league during grand opening activities. Bob Tangen, Wilbur Rusk, Dick Wright, Darrell Wiese and Doc Richards were unable to best the Cedar Rapids’ team, rolling a 2393 series to their competitor’s 2568.

The Belle Plaine Bowling Association was established the month before the bowling alley opened. Its first president was Merlyn Wonrau, Luzerne. Three men’s and two mixed couple’s leagues were soon organized.

Doc Richards taught a beginning class for women that August, the first class taught at the new alley. Two more lanes were soon added as interest in the sport grew.

Nielsen owned and managed the Belle Plaine Bowl until he returned to teaching in 1973.

Subsequent owners were Darrell and Ida Mae Kettelsen, Don Redman, Darrell and Ida Mae Kettelsen with Larry and Lori Beal managers, Dick and Shirley Raabe and Bernie and Helen Higgins.

A spring storm heavily damaged the building when Dick and Shirley Raabe owned the business (1982-1993). Shirley doesn’t remember the year but places the storm sometime in the mid-1980s.

“The roof was blown off one Palm Sunday or Easter morning. It was straight-line winds. We had water on the lanes. There was no more bowling for the rest of the season, but we had it back up and going by fall,” she said.

Glenn and Kelly Clark purchased the Belle Plaine Bowl from Bernie and Helen Higgins in October 2004.  They remodeled the kitchen that year and removed a partition and added a counter in the dining area in 2005. A laundromat was built on the east side of the building and opened for business in November 2005.

Five adult leagues with a total of 35 teams are active this year. A dozen youth teams keep 42 youngsters busy on two junior leagues.

Next spring, the Belle Plaine Bowl will host the Legion State Tournament team competition March 20-21, March 27-28 and April 10-11. Kelly Clark said the tournament is usually held in larger towns and it is an honor to have it come to Belle Plaine. She said the tournament would draw 70 teams of five people. Tama/Toledo will host the singles and doubles events.

By Judy Schlesselman, Star Press Union reporter

UPDATED December 30, 2009 11:56 AM

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