Kent resident Jack Zaborac never thought he’d make his living in a bowling alley.
He didn’t grow up throwing strikes or even spares, he said, and he never imagined a life running the lanes would be very lucrative. But fate would have it otherwise.
Now, Zaborac, 83, is the 46-year manager and longtime owner of Kent Bowl, located at 1234 Central Ave. N., and though he says the bowling business isn’t always booming, he’s glad he found his career.
“I’ve had a good life here,” he said. “I could have sold the place years ago for a handsome profit, but I have my employees to think about. I have my customers to think about. And I have myself to think about. I don’t know what the hell else I’d do.”
The bowling alley will reach its 50th anniversary of operation Aug. 10-12, and the owner will celebrate with special deals, a charity bowl fund-raiser and appearances by people from the alley’s past — a past Zaborac remembers well.
He grew up in Illinois, the ninth of 10 children in a Croatian coal-mining family. His first exposure to bowling came at the age of 12, when he had a job for $2.50 per week setting pins in a local alley. The job was short-lived, though, and he said he never got into the game back then.
A high-school dropout, Zaborac enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served overseas during World War II. He later took an entry-level job at Boeing and worked his way up through the engineering department. It was at the company, at the age of 27, that he first discovered his love for bowling.
“I was managing a fast-pitch softball team, and one of the players asked me to come out bowling,” he said. “I never really bowled before that, but I’ve been doing it ever since.”
After Boeing went through a major shift, many employees lost their jobs and Zaborac was transfered to a different position. He was unhappy in the new job, so he pointed his career toward the lanes.
A group of investors had bought Kent Bowl, in the same location as today, to keep it from going out of business, and they hired Zaborac to manage the place.
“I came here as a $600-a-month manager in 1962,” he said. “I had a good job at Boeing, but they had transfered me into a job where I didn’t have much to do. I found plenty to do here.”
Zaborac said the job was a struggle at first. He didn’t know much about running a bowling alley, and business at the almost-bankrupt alley needed much rejuvenation.
“I thought maybe I had made a mistake,” he said. “I remember putting in a 12-hour day where we only took in $3. But after seven years things started coming around, with the help of some really great employees.”
He slowly bought the business from the group of investors over the years, he said, and made his alley a success with his original tournament formats and his unique — and admittedly hard-headed — way of doing things. His was one of the last alleys in Washington, for example, to abandon the traditional lacquer finish on his lanes, and he was one of the last to install automatic scoring machines, he said.
Overall, Zaborac said he’s most enjoyed spreading his love of bowling and teaching people to be competitive in the game. He became quite a competitive bowler himself over the years, competing in tournaments across the country, and he used those skills to teach.
“I don’t think the public understands that everyone can be competitive at bowling,” Zaborac said. “I don’t care how young you are or how old you are. If you can walk, you can bowl. And we even have people who bowl here that can’t walk.”
He speaks highly of his loyal customers and his longtime employees, including his grandson, Robert Tegtmeyer, 40. Another longtime employee, Arnie Anderson, 48, said he has been working at Kent Bowl on and off since his childhood.
“I was mopping floors here when I was 11,” Anderson said. “It’s like a magnet. I don’t feel right when I’m not working here.”
Despite his age, Zaborac still regularly works at his alley, even doing manual work like replacing boards out on the lanes.
He says he’ll continue business as usual for the foreseeable future, but he’d like to open the alley to charities to use for fundraisers more often. He will have such a charity tournament during the 50th-anniversary event. Interested organizations should sign up by July 20.
As for when Zaborac will retire, he said he can’t be sure.
“The good Lord will probably make that judgement,” he said.
Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kent Bowl’s 50th Anniversary
What: Three-day event including dollar deals and a charity bowl fundraiser
When: Aug. 10-12
Where: Kent Bowl, 1234 Central Ave. N, Kent
Information: Call 253-852-3550 for more information or to sign up for the charity bowl fundraiser by July 20.