OLD ALLEY CAT : Still-Active Bowler Dick Hanke Sr., 74, Recalls Days Spent Prowling With High-Rollers

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

His hands are huge. Immense. With thick fingers and a strong grip. Not the kind of grip one might expect from a 74-year-old man.

“I have an eight-pound weight and a hand grip beside my recliner at home,” said Dick Hanke Sr., who uses the aforementioned to keep his arms and his right wrist in shape for bowling. It’s a sport in which he has competed for 44 years.

“Bowling has been a good part of my life,” he said. “It keeps me young.”

Hanke, who has competed in more than 300 tournaments, now bowls 20 games a week, one-third of his frame work in the old days.


His eldest son, Richard, 29, is a member of the Professional Bowlers Assn. His youngest son, Ken, 13, has been bowling only a year and maintains a 150 average.

Hanke, who averages 190 and has a high series of 767, became interested in bowling as a young boy in Trenton, Ill., a small farming town about 30 miles east of St. Louis.

“I spotted pins in the bowling alley,” Hanke said. “And during the weekend we would come in and clean the alley . . . and after we’d finished the owner would let us bowl.”

In 1941, Hanke moved to St. Louis and soon got a job in the aircraft industry.


He joined the company bowling team, which competed at Nelson Burton Sr.'s, bowling lanes. Burton, who later was voted into the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, took Hanke under his wing and helped him hone his skills.

“I was his protege,” Hanke said. “We became friends and he helped me with my bowling. When I got good enough to bowl in the league I started on the team that he was bowling on, which was the Hyde Park team.”

The team was part of the St. Louis All-Star Classic League, which attracted some of the big names of the sport in that era. In 1950, he competed against Don Carter, who later was voted into the ABC Hall of Fame.

“Don and I were friends. I had entertained him at the house; he was just one of the boys,” Hanke said. “He was real easygoing and had the ability to be a good bowler. He is a highly competitive individual.”


Hanke said that he enjoyed bowling in the early years because he enjoyed the associations with other bowlers.

“Part of the history of bowling was that you were able to meet a lot of real nice people, people who were better bowlers. It was real educational to compete with the stars and make friends with them,” Hanke said.

He bowled in the league until 1957 when he moved to California and found a job in management with an aerospace firm.

“Opportunities were better here, the nation had just gone through a recession and it was hard to get a job in the Midwest,” he said.


After moving to California, Hanke took a break from bowling because of the pressure of the aircraft business. He didn’t bowl again until 1960, but since then he has bowled regularly. In 1982 Hanke retired. Now he spends most of his time bowling.

He can be found twice a week at Brunswick Bowlerland Lanes in Van Nuys, bowling and helping others improve their game.

“These are things that you pass on to others and they appreciate it,” Hanke said.

One of Hanke’s teammates on the Monday league team said that Hanke’s advice helped him improve his scores.


“This past season my average was 157 and now it is 186,” said Frederick Stanberry of Panorama City, who has been bowling two and a half years. “We bowled in the same league and I wanted the best to help me.”

Hanke said that the current alley conditions also help improve scores.

“Today’s scores are much higher than 40 years ago, because of the different lane conditions and the different bowling equipment,” said Hanke, whose highest average in the all-star league was 206.

Hanke said that he has continued to bowl because of the sportsmanship.


“There is a closeness in bowling,” he said. “It is not a dog-eat-dog type thing. There is more camaraderie. There is no petty jealously. I’ll be bowling when I’m in the eighties, if I have to get up here in a wheelchair.”