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Thunder rolls in Bexar Hall

Thunder rolls in Bexar Hall
Pinsetters Hunter Montgomery takes a break between games in the Bexar Bowling Society and Social Hall, where aficionados enjoy ninepin bowling, as they have for generations.

If you are driving near Marion around Trainer Hale Road and F.M. 2538, you might think you hear the sound of thunder. It isn’t thunder, but the sound of rolling bowling balls knocking down pins in a pier-and-beam building that is the Bexar Bowling Social Hall.

Ninepin bowling

The Bexar (pronounced Bex-sar) Bowling Society in Marion was founded in 1895. It is one of 14 ninepin bowling alleys in the tri-county area of Guadalupe, Bexar, and Wilson counties. Other ninepin bowling alleys in the surrounding area include the Highlands Social Club; Martinez; Laubauch, Germania; Bracken and Blanco in Comal County; and Barbarosa, Zorn, and Marion in Guadalupe County.

Bexar’s bowling alley does not feature the electronic scoring screens one would see at a modern bowling alley in San Antonio; they have a chalkboard where bowling leagues keep score. The Bexar does not have an automatic ball return; instead, a “pinsetter” a junior high- or high school-age boy or girl at the end of the lane who sets the ball on the track and sends it barreling back to the bowler. The Bexar does not have a machine that picks up the fallen pins and resets them; that, too, is the job of the pinsetter.

Bexar’s president, Allen “Fuzzy” Wiederstein, has been involved with the bowling alley since he was a little boy. His grandfather was very involved in the operations of the club and his father was the club president before Allen was. The Bexar Bowling Society is a club and many members have a hand in ensuring the operation runs smoothly. The bowling alley is a way of life.

Family atmosphere

The Bexar bowling alley hosts ninepin league bowling Monday through Friday from 7-10 p.m., with 19 teams competing each week. There are six people per team and four teams bowl nightly. Folks come from the San Antonio, Marion, New Berlin, La Vernia, and Seguin areas to play. Teams mostly are made up of family and friends and relatives.

One difference between ninepin bowling and the 10-pin variety is the team gets a score, not an individual. The team’s captain chooses which bowler bowls next, determined by what pins are still left standing. He or she may choose a lead person known to get strikes to get things started and, if there are pins left standing, he will then choose a person to clean up pins on the left, right, or middle.

One of the bowlers I had the privilege of visiting with was Glory Ann Luensmann. She has been bowling at the Bexar since 1956, when she was 27. Her grandparents lived next door to the club back then. She also worked as a bartender for 12 years in the Bexar. After we were finished talking, she got called to go bowl and she bowled a strike!

Bill Wheelis and Pete McBrearty have been bowling at the Bexar for 30 years. Bill is a former Department of Public Safety and narcotics officer. I asked Pete what he liked the best about the Bexar.

“Everything,” he said. “Family atmosphere. It’s home away from home.”

Howard Luensmann was a pinsetter when he was 10 years old at the old club’s former location around 1955. His daughter, Cynthia (Luensmann) Davis, now a principal in the Judson school district, has been bowling there since she was a little girl. She was in a kids’ league back in the early 1980s and was a pinsetter, too.

Setting pins

The seats for the pinsetters are hard wood with no cushions, made in 1955. Those kids don’t get to sit on them very much, however. They are up and on their feet and bending down to pick up pins and resetting them and picking up bowling balls, as quick as a wink.

I asked pinsetter Hunter Montgomery how heavy the bowling balls are that he picks up all night long and he said, “Oh, around 3 or 4 pounds.”

Club Manager John Brogdon had a different story, however, saying they weigh 10 to 16 pounds. That surprised Hunter. It’s little wonder he was building muscle while on the job.

“There’s a lot of bending and picking up and you have to do it quickly, and the seats are hard,” he said, his only complaints about the job.

Pinsetter McKayla Hoagland said her brother was a pinsetter before her and she wants to do this all through high school and save up money for college.

The kids get to work around friendly people and they make good tips, as well as get paid a decent wage for their three-hour shift.

“Fuzzy” Wiederstein said he believes the teens learn the value of work.

“Do they want to do manual labor all their life, or do they want to go to college and get a better job?” he asked.

He was 8 years old when he first set pins. His kids set pins, and now he feels he is teaching a valuable lesson to those teens lucky enough to get a shift in this bowling alley.

Bexar Hall

The Bexar Hall has a bar offering beer, wine coolers, bottled water, and sodas. There is no snack bar, but bowlers can take their own snacks to munch on between frames.

The original hardwood lanes were replaced a few years ago with synthetic material for $30,000. Other such improvements include a $60,000 air-conditioning system in the massive hall, where wedding receptions and parties take place. The hall seats more than 500 folks comfortably and has a huge dance floor. There are special areas in which cake and food can be served.

The hall rents for $700 to nonmembers and $600 to members. It costs only $5 to become a member, so there are benefits in joining the club. For hall rental or information, call John Brogdon at 210-710-1507.

Sausage supper

In order to pay for all those improvements, the Bexar Bowling Society hosts a Home Made Country Sausage Supper every year. This year’s event is right around the corner, on Sunday, Sept. 16.

The annual event was started in 1955. Fuzzy’s grandfather was renowned for his special country sausage recipe and they’ve used the same recipe ever since. The club will sell 1,600 pounds of sausage on this one day. Fresh sausage will be offered to take home, as well as cooked.

Performers, such as Darrell McCall, have performed at the Bexar Bowling Hall; McCall likes that sausage an awful lot, Fuzzy said.

Wiederstein prepares and cooks that country sausage right on the premises in huge black kettles. His slogan promises: “From the pot to the plate in 5 minutes.” Sausage plates will be served with green beans, sauerkraut, potato salad, and applesauce. The potato salad is another famous family recipe. Plates are $8.

The ladies of the bowling society will be baking homemade desserts, cakes and pies as well. “Pot” bowling will take place, with 24 leagues bowling. The sausage supper also will feature games for the kids, an auction, snow cones, and a free dance. “The Country Tradition Band” will also perform.

If you’d like to learn how to play ninepin bowling or want to join a league, call League Manager George Keltermann at 210-560-2552.

If you have a hankering for some good homemade sausage and want to watch some ninepin action, head on over to the Bexar Social Hall Sept. 16 and watch the pinsetters set a few. It’s like seeing a bit of history in action.

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