Senior Merrymakers

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller March 15, 2010 17:55

The merry band of bowlers/Photo by Ben Hicks

Yes, strikes and spares may draw cheers. But for these bowling buffs, fun and fitness matter more than the scores when they gather for weekly games.

Meet the aptly-named Senior Merrymakers. This easygoing group of Tuolumne and Calaveras county residents — including a few heading toward the centenarian mark — meets at the Sonora Family Bowl and, depending on the turnout, can take up as many as 16 lanes for a couple of hours of bowling and friendship.

“We’re there to have fun,” says Laura Persson. “And bowling is good exercise, physically and mentally.”

The Tuolumne woman, herself a bowler of about 20 years, is 57 and the group’s secretary. She first learned of the league and its laughter-filled games when she worked at the bowling alley. Now a Merrymaker herself, she said the Wednesday afternoon games, played September through April, are get-togethers they all look forward to.

New members are always welcome, she emphasizes, adding that bowling skills, or lack thereof, are not an issue. High scores, gutter balls and a wild range of rolling techniques are just part of the game.

Age requirements are also pretty flexible. Persson said the group has drawn bowlers in their late 40s and the current membership includes an Angels Camp husband and wife in their 90s. Bertha and Earl Walsh, dubbed the group’s golden seniors, have been married 40-plus years. She’s 91 and he’s 90. She’s been bowling for 30 years, while he took it up just four years ago.

Bertha was among the group’s first members when it formed about 20 years ago, largely as a way for bowlers from other leagues to still play even as they got older. Ever since, “we’ve made good friends all the way,” she says. “We’re just all nice people and we just have a good time win, lose or draw.”

The sport of bowling, Bertha continues, is a great form of exercise for people of all ages, without being too physically demanding.

Socializing and supporting one another are huge factors for group members. Persson notes that some members who have lost a spouse have met new partners or friends through the bowling games. Other members fighting varying health problems receive plenty of moral support and encouragement, too.

Persson herself is an example of that side of the Merrymakers. After she suffered a fall last year and injured her right leg, her doctors discovered a blood clot, and ultimately had to amputate the lower part of the leg. Regardless, Persson was again coming to the Wednesday games just a couple of weeks after surgery to root on her bowling friends. And thanks to therapy and her own strong spirit, Persson says she fully intends to be bowling again herself by June — both with the Merrymakers and a more competitive league she also belongs to.  She notes that other members have battled cancer, and how the group’s games and camaraderie helped to keep them active and determined to beat the disease.

Helping others is another group priority. Members contribute to food drives benefiting other seniors and many have participated in special bowling fundraisers for veterans’ causes.

Beyond the wide range of ages, the group includes bowlers of many backgrounds:  military retirees, truck drivers, lawyers and homemakers are just a few examples. “We have all kinds; the background doesn’t matter. They all have fun, come out and enjoy themselves and each other,” Persson says.

The games routinely draw an assortment of sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom enjoy the spirited games and sometimes bowl themselves.

“We have a couple bowlers with high averages and others with lower averages, and you know what? We don’t care” Persson adds, again laughing. “What matters is that we’re out there with the group, laughing, joking and having a great time. … This group helps to keep us all going. In sickness and in health, that’s what we do. We’re like a little family.”

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller March 15, 2010 17:55
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