Obituary - Astro Bowl -- Don Lowry Lanes East (1978-1998)
Don Lowry Lanes East, born Astro Bowl in 1978, died this May at the young age of 19 years after a long illness. Cause of death was listed as excessive value syndrome compounded by loneliness. In other words, the original builders picked a great location. That coupled with less than 50% league utilization spelled its demise. In less than 20 years, the real estate alone was worth almost three times the original cost of Astro Bowl. To the bowlers, it was worth much more. And for some, this establishment was the site of some priceless memories.
Astro Bowl III opened for business on Monday October 9, 1978. It was the third of the Astro Bowl centers following the opening of the Greenwood and Columbus facilities. The $2 million complex was the first center in Kokomo to offer automatic scoring. The AMF Magic Score system allowed bowlers more time to socialize while bowling and eliminated the scoring reviews often conducted following closely competed games.
Steve Bain was the original manager and house professional. When asked why Astro Bowl came to Kokomo, Bain replied "We felt there was a need here. The way the population is compared to the number of bowling houses we felt this was the place to come."
For the 1977-78 season, Kokomo ranked 12th in the state with 2739 men bowlers. With the women bowlers included, Kokomo had about 5000 sanctioned bowlers and we are now under 4000. By the 1984-85 season, it was down to 2400. Today we have just under 2000 men for a reduction of about 20% since Don Lowry purchased the facility.
As comes with any new center, notable occurrences and house records get set in droves.
That first season, a women's team joined a "men's" scratch league for the first time. A top-notch Bowden's Flowers team joined the Astro Bowl Classic League. This team set KWBA teams series records in back-to-back weeks. First they shot a 2873. The next week they upped the mark to 2967. The team members and their scores are shown below.
Judy Belt - 658 Betty Malson - 652
Rosie Currens - 582 Jeniece Kasey - 622
Betty Malson - 576 Sandy Shuck - 601
Sandy Shuck - 540 Rosie Currens - 558
Jeniece Kasey - 517 Judy Belt 534
One week later, Judy Belt shot a 275 game to set the Astro Bowl house record - for men or women!!
Astro Bowl's second season (1979-80) saw Chrysler layoffs and a strike target at GM. League participation waned but Astro Bowl was the least affected. 25 year old Rick Whittington took over as manager. Layoff and strike affected bowlers were not required to contribute to the prize fund. They only needed to pay the bowling fees.
That second season saw many new firsts for the new Astro Bowl.
Ed Martin fired the first 700 series, a 709, while rolling for Slim's Steak House in the Chrysler League. In November 1979, Chuck Smith rolled a house record 747 series. One month later, Martin got the record back with a 748.
On February 9, 1980, Betty Malson set the KWBA series record with her 725. A week later, Gerry Simpson raised the men's mark to 763. Less than a month later, Judy Belt toppled Malson's record by a single pin with her 726. That same week, Martin recaptured - again - the men's house record with his 774. Martin's score also lifted the Fletcher's Steak House team to a KBA series record score of 3318. Other team members and their scores were Larry Retherford (682), Dick Martin (672), Floyd Wooley (597) and Art Bassett (593).
Jim Huffer rolled the first 300 at Astro Bowl while practicing for the Delco Classic League. He continued his hot shooting by rolling 729 that mid-December night.
The first sanctioned 300 game at Astro Bowl was also the last of the decade and part of the last 700 series of the decade. Those honors went to Dan Preston with his 300 game and 740 series recorded on December 30, 1979.
Of the almost 120 perfect games ever rolled in Kokomo, 34 were rolled at this center; eight while called Astro Bowl and 26 as Don Lowry Lanes East. There were six perfect games this final season alone!
Three bowlers have rolled multiple 300 games there. The first to accomplish the feat was Gerard Kelley. Jon Dieterman was a close second and was followed by Bill Schultz. Kelley had the second 300 ever at Astro Bowl. He also had the last, coming this season. That makes him the only person with three perfect games at the center.
Brian Graham holds the house record and the only 800's ever shot at Don Lowry Lanes East. He shot an 803 in March 1995 while subbing for his father in the Friday Night Early Birds League. Less than a year later, in December, he fired an 847 series leaving only three solid 8-pins in the process! This is Kokomo's second highest series ever!
Astro Bowl hosted the men's City Tournament that first season. The center hosted the City Tournament every three years from 1979 to 1997 for a total of seven City Tournaments.
Two families will certainly miss the center for the City Tournament has been very good to them.
Max Snodgrass won a doubles title and two all-events titles. Son Mark won a singles title there. Son-in-Law Jim Mote won a team event and a doubles title.
Gerard and Jon Kelley also fared very well at Astro Bowl - Don Lowry Lanes East. Gerard won a team title and doubles title. Brother Jon captured two team titles, one singles title, one doubles title and two all-events titles. He also won four handicap titles. His 2075 still stands as the City Tournament all-events record.
The bowling center has changed hands several times. Marlin Milligan took over in 1982 and appointed Don Jensen as manager. Many Kokomo bowlers have fond memories of Don Jensen.
In August 1986, Royal Pin from Indianapolis bought the center from a Detroit-based group. This "absentee ownership" had allowed the center to deteriorate. On December 22, 1986 Don Lowry bought Astro Bowl from Royal Pin. Lane breakdowns reduced greatly in frequency following the much needed repairs.
Scores jumped in the short oil era beginning with the 1986-87 season. They receded again when the "three unit" conditioning rule took effect with the 1991-92 season. Scores gradually improved but did not keep pace with the rest of the country during this time frame. Only in the last year, during Floyd Russell's short tenure as as manager, did Don Lowry Lanes East add significantly more conditioner to the middle of the lane. With the new super-reactive resin bowling balls, more conditioner was needed. This boosted the scores in the center to record levels for its final season.
The author will certainly miss this bowling center. It has been the source of many great times and memories. Goodbye my friend!!