Veterans of the lanes

What began as an excuse to get out of the house more than 50 years ago continues for Ozaukee County Bowling Hall of Fame members Mary Marchese and Kathy Wendt, who every week during the season are still throwing strikes

Longtime bowlers Mary Marchese (front) and Kathy Wendt (back row, center) posed with their R&R Bar & Grill team members at Harbor Hills Recreation Center in Port Washington, including (second row from left) Dawn Sevits, Lora Linder (back from left) Beth Farrell and Becky Krier. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The shoes aren’t made like they used to be, the lanes have been updated with new surfaces, the locations have changed and shirt styles and sponsors have run the gamut throughout the decades.

But two local names in bowling have stayed the same.

What started as a girls night out more than 50 years ago has continued for Ozaukee County Bowling Hall of Fame members and Port Washington residents Mary Marchese and Kathy Wendt.

Marchese remembers her father teaching her how to score by hand at Bley’s Recreation, before it became Willie’s Lakefront Lanes in Port.

“There were no machines back then,” she said.

But there were wardrobe standards.

“When we first started bowling, we had to wear skirts,” she said.

Wendt began at the old Belgium Community Center before she even knew how to bowl. Five people were on the team and she was the 12th bowler. With injuries, pregnancies and people moving away, Wendt became a regular before her 21st birthday. She ended up bowling two nights per week.

The pair has bowled together at various alleys, some of which have since closed. They remember how popular the sport used to be. Leagues would fill instantly.

“Years ago at Bley’s you told them you want your spot for next year,” Wendt said.

Nowadays, bowling isn’t quite what it once was, even in Southeast Wisconsin, one of the most prominent areas in the country for the sport.

Marchese said a host of reasons could contribute to bowling’s decline.

“Some people don’t like the commitment,” she said, adding that leagues run 30 weeks long. “Some say it’s expensive.”

Increasing prices has triggered one alteration.

“Years back it was a real beer frame,” Wendt said.

With today’s pricey drinks, now bowlers toss $1 into a kitty that helps pay for the banquet at the end of each season.

Equipment has changed as well. Wendt longs for her old Dexter shoes. They used to be made in the USA, she said, but now they are made elsewhere.

“The shoes are not as nice and soft,” she said.

Balls can be made of different materials, from rubber to types of plastic that react differently on lanes.

Marchese puts her fingers all the way into her bowling ball, while Wendt uses a fingertip ball.

“It’s a feeling thing,” Marchese said.

Wendt still rolls a ball that weighs more than 15 pounds — 16 is the heaviest — while Marchese has dropped to a 10-pounder that has to travel faster to get to where she wants it to go.

“You have to throw it with a little more speed,” she said. “If you throw it too slow, it will hook at the end.”

Arm soreness, she said, isn’t bad.

“You get used to it,” she said.

The pair, who used to work together in the office of a Cedarburg construction firm, racked up a wardrobe full of shirts in all different colors with various sponsors throughout the years. Wendt remembers some royal blue versions that “were like cast iron.”

Wendt said she has a watch she earned for bowling a high game and a large number of patches for other achievements.

Changes aside, the companionship is consistent. They’ve made lifelong friends and regularly razz one another over bad balls.

“That’s the best part of the game,” Wendt said.

Their current league, Tuesday Major League, recently moved to Harbor Hills Recreation Center since Willie’s closed after Gayle “Willie” Wilber died in December.

Harbor Hills already had leagues running on Tuesday but made room for the four-team Tuesday Major League, including Marchese and Wendt’s R&R Bar & Grill team.

“We appreciate the men’s league accepting us, letting us in,” Marchese said.

She has been secretary of the league for more than 30 years.

Marchese remembers bowling a 274 once and a 674 series. She once executed a 4-6-7-10 split, known as “the big four” in bowling circles. But she didn’t even get a drink out of it.

“You get an attaboy,” her niece and teammate Becky Krier said with a laugh.

Being related, Krier smiled when she said she felt “obligated” to join the team, adding “I love to bowl.”

Teammates have come and gone, but it was fortunate they all get along. Years ago when traveling to the state tournaments, four or five of them would stay together in one hotel room.

Marchese and Wendt remember winning a league title in the 1980s, and Wendt can still rattle off the names of their teammates: Linda Larson, Ruby Arendt and Karen Van Wey.

They fondly remember longtime teammates Arla DeBroux, who turned 88 last year; June Gionet, 93, who stopped bowling a few years ago; and the late Betty Wengel.

Some of their best memories didn’t come on the lanes. State tournaments used to have teams put on skits. Wendt remembers one team that used yellow sheets to dress like chickens.

“It was insane. It was funny,” she said.

Their team in the 1980s appeared on the local TV show “The Bowling Game” held at Red Carpet Lanes on Forest Avenue in Milwaukee. They lost a roll-off to the team that won the title that year.

Marchese said she thinks she won an oil change. Wendt won a car wash she knew she wasn’t going to use.

“Like you’re going to go all the way down to Milwaukee for a car wash,” she said.

A portion of their R&R team — Marchese, Krier, Lora Linder of Grafton and Beth Farrell of Port Washington  — won a county tournament last fall. Wendt was on the team that came in second by three pins.

The R&R team plans to go to the  Midwest Women’s Bowling Tournament this month in Michigan. It took third place last year — 13 pins out of first — and earned a few thousand dollars.

Then team members return home to finish yet another 30 week season.

“It doesn’t feel that long. It goes fast,” she said.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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