WWWBA bids adieu after 65 years

Past bowlers — and fond memories — are honored as the women's association prepares to combine with area men and youth.

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WALLA WALLA - For the women of the Walla Walla Women's Bowling Association (WWWA), the last 65 years have been full of fun on the lanes and on trips across the country.

And though there's uncertainty about the future, there's no doubt that women's bowling in the Walla Walla Valley will strike on.

The WWWBA met for its 65th - and final - annual meeting Wednesday night at the Walla Walla Country Club, where it honored those bowlers gone as well as remembering the many fun times.

Like the year that Lonna Borgens and a number of her teammates rode in a glass elevator to the top of the GM Building in Detroit, looking down over the city and into Canada.

Or the year that Marge Marshall met her husband on the bowling lanes.

But while this is the final meeting for the women, a new tradition begins in August, when the women's league merges with the men and youth for a new open league.

"For bowlers that just want to come out and bowl, they won't notice any difference at all," said Angie McColley, the group secretary.

If anything, bowling at the local, state and national levels will be more streamlined, as women wishing to bowl in open tournaments will only have to pay one set of dues, she said.

But McColley and the members of the transition team know that change, especially for an organization with so much history, can be tough.

"With change comes uncertainty, and we're committed to keep the history together," she said. "The league has been here for a long time and it will continue."

That's a relief for some of the women who've been around a while.

Marshall first started bowling with the WWWBA in 1959. She's been to trips to nationals across the country, from Hartford, Conn., to Reno, Nev., and has more fond memories than she can list.

But her favorite time on the lanes came when she met her late husband through a teammate. They were married for 46 years.

Although Marshall no longer bowls, she's still active with the organization and is a lifetime member.

"I just made good friends," she said of her time on the lanes. "I bowled with the same team for 30 years. We had great fun going to tournaments all over the country. You don't have to be good - ou just have to be wealthy to go."

Trips to nationals are $1,500 and Walla Walla has sent women every year.

Margie Ferguson, who's been a member of the organization since 1970, has been to 28 nationals trips, although she won't be heading to Syracuse, N.Y., on May 1 for this year's trip.

"It's been a long time since I didn't make it," she said of this year's trip. "But I love to go. You meet wonderful people and get to be friends with ladies across the country. We still exchange Christmas cards. It's fun to get together, travel and sightsee."

The women have criss-crossed the country every year, taking trips to the Indianapolis Speedway and Key West.

"We went to Key West and had our picture taken at a big sign welcoming people," Borgens said. "The next summer, they had a big hurricane and the reporters stood right where we'd been standing to talk about it."

And from a hotel fire in Orange County, to realizing a fellow bowler was locked out of her room and climbed outside on a hotel ledge, to eating just a little too much two-for-the-price-of-one lobster tail, it's been an experience.

"I wouldn't have gotten to go to all those places if it weren't for these trips," Marshall said.

Besides the sightseeing, there were lessons involved, as well.

"I liked to learn the town and the history," said Joan Dicus, who will head to Syracuse for her 23rd national trip. "I think the most interesting town we went to was Detroit."

Though the trips can get expensive, the women split room costs.

"We'd smuggle four in a room," Borgens said. "We're just there to sleep."

The trips aren't about a hotel room or luxury - they're about spending time together and bonding - and bowling.

"I love the sport," Ferguson said. "I like the people. It's maddening and frustrating, but it's wonderful."

The new merger between the 223-member WWWBA and the men's association takes effect Aug. 1. Next year, the men and youth bowlers will join the women at their annual meeting, although the merger won't effect tournaments.

The state tournament is in the Tri-Cities May 15-16 and the national trip is in Syracuse, N.Y., this May.

The merger may change the meeting menu cake and fruit to chips and beer - and something more appropriate for youth - but it shouldn't change the bowling experience, McColley said.

A transition meeting between the associations is from 2-4 p.m. April 9 at Trinity Lutheran Church at 109 S. Roosevelt St. in Walla Walla.

But some traditions, like honoring the 20 bowlers who died in the last year, will continue.

Twenty women were honored with red and white carnations before the Wednesday meeting, remembering their experiences and fun on the lanes. Some had bowled with the group as far back as the 1940s.

Now, the oldest bowler in the WWWBA is in her 80s, while the youngest can be just 5 years old. In a sport open to all ages, these women are ready to welcome the next generation.

"Do you bowl?" Marshall asked. "You don't have to be good. It's just fun."

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