Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Fundraiser for bowling right up your alley

Historic bowling alley invites public to help out


Dean Jackson

Whatzup Features Writer

Published January 12, 2022

It’s a not-so-well-kept secret. For nearly 90 years, a cozy, six-lane bowling alley has flourished in the basement of Most Precious Blood Catholic Church and School.

With little promotion, generations have diligently kept the family-friendly endeavor going strong in the Bloomingdale neighborhood just north of downtown.

Larry Sarrazin and a team of about a dozen volunteers lead the operation. A third-generation Precious Blood bowler, he says the facility was an essential part of the church and school’s mission.

The school opened in 1930, and two years later they added the bowling center. As the nation was struggling through the Great Depression, bowling provided needed funds to keep the school afloat.

It also provided the city’s north side with a recreation hotspot, a precious commodity at the time.

“My father started running it back in the 1970s and continued the committee for years,” Sarazine said. “He ran it for 49 years with local volunteers and over time has proven itself to continue to contribute to the church and school until today.”

The facility is now called The Rich Sarrazin Bowling Center.

Family Tradition

Another local family has been there from the start: The Henrys.

“Back in the 1930s several of our grandfathers got involved with the church and they wanted to put a recreation area in there,” John Henry Jr. said. “They were able to convince (church leaders) it was better to have men hanging around the church rather than a local bar.”

They found used flooring from another bowling alley and the plan started to come together.

Then families like the Henrys got involved, Henry said.

“All of our cousins, all of us cousins, ended up doing it for our fathers and each other who wanted to bowl,” he said.

Henry even has an uncle who hosted fish frys. Other relatives would play cards while the others bowled.

It was kids from the Henry and Sarrazin families who set the pins in place by hand.

“Back in the day, it wasn’t a big deal to really set up bowling lanes because all the pins were set up by hand,” Henry said. “They had little pinsetter kids back there.”

“Now they’ve got automatic pinsetters in there, which they bought from some other place many years ago. And so it’s always been close to us. Some of our family still bowls and leagues down there.”

According to Henry, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry grew up right across the street from the alley. He and his brother Jerry were part of the crew.

“I think they got 10 cents a game when we used to set pins back then,” John Henry said. “They could set three to make a little more money. They’d set two and two pairs at a time or four pairs at a time. It was crazy. They were really jumping around.

John Henry was a pinsetter, too, more than 50 years ago.

Larry’s father, Rich Sarrazin, oversaw operations for 49 years. When he died in November, Larry picked up the baton. And like Larry, the elder Sarrazin followed his father, Gene, who was one of the original pin boys.

Larry Sarrazin and a team of nearly a dozen volunteers keep the center running now.

Making Upgrades

After his father’s death, Larry Sarrazin and John Henry brainstormed the next chapter.

“(Larry Sarrazin) told me it needs to be spiffed up,” Henry said.

The answer: a low-key, family-based fundraiser.

“I thought, let’s have a little bowling party down there, maybe a card party with our family,” Henry laughed. There’s enough of us (Henrys) to generate $3,000 or $4,000.“

It expanded to include neighborhood favorite Lexy’s Pizza.

It started as a Facebook post, but like summer grass, Henry said, it’s growing quickly.

“The new floor, we are doing a fundraiser for, has been needed for some time and we are also doing some small cosmetic changes this summer as well,” Sarrazin said.

Items like paint and light fixtures are part of the maintenance plan.

The fundraiser is Saturday, Jan. 15, 1-4 p.m., with a suggested donation of $50 per person.

Henry said it will include as many as 30 couples bowling, with cards, a drawing, prizes, and pull tabs.

In a lot of ways, Henry hopes it will be much like the old family get-togethers when they were kids.

“Everybody’s got grandkids now, so we don’t get to see what we call our cousins, so hopefully, a lot of them will show up and we can reminisce a little bit because we all grew up down there hanging around the bowling alley,” Henry said.

Sarrazin believes it’s the bowling alley’s rich history that makes it such a special attraction for rentals and other events.

“It’s a slice from the past and we hope to continue to make a difference for the community and the parish,” Sarrazin said. “In a world of technology, we offer a one-of-a-kind time with friends that become family. “

It still has plenty of the original charm. Automatic pin machines and manual scoring add to the environment that’s nearly impossible to replicate.

“We love to make memories that people can cherish for a lifetime.”

Henry said it’s a perfect setup.

“I can’t think of a better way to host an event. I’m sure you could go to a bowling alley, which would be great, but just having your own quiet, cozy little setting,” Henry said. “What could be better than that?”

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