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Queen of the bowling alley

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Elizabeth Grote knows all too well the motto, "You're only as young as you feel."

In fact, she lives by those very words.

After celebrating her 90th birthday on Monday, the Sibley woman was ready to hit the lanes at the local bowling alley on Tuesday. With a few exceptions, she's bowled once a week -- and for several years, three times a week -- in women's leagues at Merry Lanes since 1957.

Born and raised in Ellsworth, Grote's love for bowling dates back to her teen years, when she would save up her money to bowl at the town's two-lane alley.

"We were poor people, so we couldn't afford to go up there very often," she recalled.

Back then, she rented her bowling shoes from the alley and borrowed one of its bowling balls.

Then came marriage, a move to rural Little Rock, Iowa, and a family. Still, Grote found time to bowl.

"When we lived on the farm south of Little Rock, I'd stop in at the alley in the afternoons when we came to (Sibley) for a little bit," she said.

One day, while playing a game or two, the alley's owner asked if she would join a league. Soon began a schedule of going to Sibley each Wednesday night. Because there were 12 teams in the league and only six lanes, bowlers were staggered between the early and late shift. Grote's husband, along with the husband of one of her teammates, gathered to play cards while the women bowled the early games. And Grote's daughter, Rebecca, tagged along to watch the women bowl.

For a few years during the 1970s, Grote had to pack up her bowling ball and shoes and put them in the closet. Those were the days when she started work at 6 a.m. for the Sibley Post Office, and walked 12 miles each day delivering mail to city residents.

"That didn't work to bowl," she said. "I quit golfing then, too."

Her break from bowling didn't last long, and she soon returned to her Tuesday afternoon Coffee League. Even during two hip sur-geries -- one in 1984 and another in 1991 -- she only missed a few weeks of league competition.

"I bowled up until that 1984 surgery," said Grote.

During the state's senior women's doubles tournament in Marshalltown that year, she took pain pills to get her through. It worked too, as she and then-double's partner, Lillian Brandt, took first place after putting together a 1,289 series.

Throughout the years, Grote has managed to amass enough trophies and plaques from bowling to fill a box, while newspaper clippings and score sheets fill the better part of a photo album. During the 1980s, her team took the league championship five years in a row, and there are numerous photos of the team's 1982 trip to the national tournament in St. Louis, Mo.

In addition to the bowling honors she's collected, Grote saved her old bowling shirts.

"I used to put the patches (awarded for a 200-game or better) on my shirt," she said.

"But her shirt got too heavy," chimed in daughter, Rebecca Stefaniak, with a laugh.

Then again, over the years, the bowling ball has become too heavy as well. Grote began her bowling career with a 13½-pound ball. She later downsized to an 11-pounder, and now uses a 10-pound ball.

Though a bowler worries about switching to a new ball, Grote recalled the time she competed in a Sioux Falls, S.D., tournament with a brand-new blue bowling ball.

"I got two 200 games right off the bat," she said. "Elnora Dirks (then a teammate) asked me what in the world I'd done differently."

Today, bowling alongside teammates Patty Klein and Audrey Julius, Grote's average is 126 -- a decline from her glory days dur-ing the late 1970s and 1980s, but still a good score. Her highest game ever was a 241, bowled on March 8, 1978, and her highest series came a few years later, when on lanes five and six she bowled a 566 series (166, 216 and 184).

She's also managed to bowl two triplicates -- the same score earned in three consecutive games -- in her career, a 150 and a 171.

"With the 171, the first two games I bowled a 171, and the third game, well ... I never wanted one pin to sit there more than at any other time in my life," said Grote with a smile.

Alongside her collection of high scores comes the occasional low score, too. Grote said her lowest came, last year when, at age 89, she and a teammate each rolled about a 78.

Through the highs and lows, however, Grote is known at the alley for cheering on everybody -- even her opponents -- when they do well.

"We have a lot of fun," she said. "If it wasn't for all the fun, I wouldn't even go."

Rest assured, her teammates aren't going to allow her to quit.

"They say that you have to bowl until you're sick or you're dead," Stefaniak reminded her mom.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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