90-year-old Lexington bowler keeps on rollin’

ainelson@thestate.comJune 21, 2014 

Louise Brown winces slightly as she turns away from lane 28 at JC’s Lexington Bowl.

Her hair is white, her shoulders are softly rounded and she is one week shy of her 90th birthday, but Brown’s pain is not from aging.

Her 12-pound Twister just picked off three pins and, midway through her second of three games, that is not the kind of throw the veteran bowler wanted.

She will turn 90 on June 24, and she has been bowling since 1976, when her employer Allied Chemical established a bowling league. She has spent more than half of her life bowling two to four times a week. Her average score this summer is 136-140.

“She is just an amazing woman,” said bowling center owner James “JC” Williamson, who has known Miss Louise since she joined that Allied team, when he owned the Major League alley where they competed. “I don’t think I’ve ever known a female bowler to be her age and be as good as she still is.”

But he said, “there’s something about this sport. Bowlers live longer, and they can still bowl when they are older.”

Miss Louise grabs her ball from the ball return, slipping her ringed fingers and pink-painted nails into the finger holes. She launches the ball a quarter of the length of the lane with her throw. The ball hooks hard to the left, and six more pins hop, then topple.

Only the six pin remains standing. Miss Louise turns away, shrugs. And smiles.

“At least I had one good game today,” she said.

Annette Threet smiles, too, watching her mother enjoy her favorite pastime.

“I envy my Mom. I hope I can be doing this when I’m her age,” said Threet, the eldest of Miss Louise’s six living children.

“She’s an inspiration to all of us. Everyday when you walk in, she’s waiting with a smile to give you a hug,” said Carol Hughes, president of the Thursday Belles, the league Miss Louise bowls with in the fall. “There are some people that you just love, and if I had to choose another mother, other than my own, I’d choose her.”

Hughes and other bowlers started planning to do something special for Miss Louise’s milestone birthday months ago.

“We celebrate birthdays every month, but hers was going to be special,” Hughes said.

Miss Louise said her hardiness is hereditary.

“My mother lived until she was 99, so I guess I got my genetics from her,” she said.

She has 28 grand and great-grandchildren, and is expecting her eighth great-great-grandchild later this year.

But Miss Louise rarely has the lap for bouncing babies.

“I think if I just went home and sat down on the sofa, I wouldn’t be able to get back up,” said Brown, who walks at least a mile each morning at a neighborhood ballpark. “I do have a hobby, though. I quilt.”

Miss Louise, known as a giver, gave away six quilts last year for Christmas. But she also gives hugs to everyone, embracing her teammates and competitors every time they meet. And she frequently shows up at the bowling alley with a basketball full of vegetables from her garden—her other diversion.

But bowling is not a hobby for Miss Louise.

“She takes her bowling seriously,” said Shirley Adkins, the other half of Miss Louise’s “Diva Duo” team in this Ruby’s Girls summer league. “When she doesn’t do well, it upsets her.”

Miss Louise said her average has gone up lately, but she is still hoping to beat the 199 she bowled during her fall league.

“She throws that ball down that lane and she gets out there and carries on like she’s 65 years old,” Williamson said.

“I feel 18, today,” Miss Louise said, surrounded by the other ladies of the league, giggling after Williamson presented her with a bouquet and a plaque to commemorate her dedication to the sport.

Miss Louise bowls every Tuesday in the summer, and in the fall and winter, she also bowls on Thursdays.

“When she was younger, she’d bowl on the weekends, too,” Threet said.

And back when she was working swing shifts, Miss Louise said, she would also stop off at the alley to play a few games by herself after work.

Even as she has aged, Miss Louise has rarely missed a date at the lanes. Several years ago, she missed a few weeks after having a left knee replacement.

“It was hard to keep her down, but once her doctor turned her loose, she was right back here bowling,” Threet said.

“It’s awesome to see her out here,” said Adkins, “especially when you see so many people her age who can’t do what she’s doing.”

The next oldest bowler is Jo Barnes, who is 85, but the average age of Ruby’s Girls is 70, according to Hughes. The younger ladies all count Miss Louise as an inspiration, but she said, her secret is simple.

“Never give up. Keep at it. You’ll have bad days, but just keep going,” she said.

“As long as I can get to a bowling alley and I can pick up my ball and throw it, that’s how long I’m going to keep bowling,” Brown said.

So no one should be surprised when she arrives at the lanes on Tuesday to spend her milestone birthday aiming to bowl a 200.

Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419

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