OWASSO — Bill Strong first took up bowling after he got back from the war.
“It was 1945, and I had enrolled at Spartan,” he said. “Me and two of my buddies there were dating these three girls and we’d go bowl together.”
All these years later, the main point of the game hasn’t changed for Strong.
It’s still more about the people than the pins.
“That’s why I do it. This is the best bunch of people I’ve been around,” said Strong, referring to his current bowling group.
Strong, a World War II veteran and quite possibly the state’s oldest active bowler, celebrated his 99th birthday this week with, appropriately, his bowling friends at his side.
The group organized a brief party for Strong during its regular Tuesday bowling outing at the Lanes at Coffee Creek in Owasso.
The acknowledgement of his birthday, which is Wednesday, wasn’t a surprise, Strong said. His fellow bowlers — a group of some 25 area retirees — do something for him every year.
What Strong didn’t expect was the gift. This year, his friends chipped in and bought him a new ball.
After Bob Lock presented it to him, Strong cradled it admiringly.
“It’s beautiful,” he said.
The new ball, which has to be fitted to his hand before he can use it, is a blend of black, purple and gold.
“I’ve never had a ball that nice,” he said.
Strong, who bowls every Tuesday and Friday with the group, has been using a 14-pound ball. The new one is a little lighter at 12 pounds, and he’s looking forward to testing it out, he said.
As much as he enjoys the company, Strong takes the game seriously. He bowls an average of 135 but recently hit 200. His goal every time is at least 150.
His friends, even when they’re losing to him, can’t help but marvel.
“I golf and I bowl,” Tom Turner said. “I’ve seen one double eagle in my life. It’s very rare. Bill is that rare. I’ve seen one 99-year-old bowler.”
A native of Arizona, Strong was an aircraft mechanic with the Army Air Corps during World War II. He serviced B-25 bombers and other planes while stationed in North Africa and Italy.
After the war, he settled in the Tulsa area, where during previous training at Spartan aircraft school he’d met a local girl who would later become his wife.
He returned to Spartan and after graduating went on to a 36-year career with American Airlines.
These days, Strong stays active. He still drives and remains relatively independent.
His friends are glad for any part they can play in keeping that a reality.
“He told me the other day that ‘this is my life,’ ” Lock said, describing Strong’s feelings about the bowling group. “It helps keep him going.”
Strong wasn’t just talking about the game.
“They hug everybody,” he said of what’s become his bowling family. “I enjoy the whole atmosphere of it.”
Street School students head out to the Lower Illinois River to release trout they raised in the classroom and learn about the river and fishing as part of Trout Unlimited's Trout in the Classroom program.