Alice Frank

Billings bowler Alice Frank, who celebrated her 99th birthday on Valentine's Day, is competing in two senior leagues every week at Fireside Lanes. She recently rolled her highest game of the season, a 194. 

BILLINGS — Alice Frank is already thinking about bowling next year when she reaches 100 years old.

At age 99, and with no plans to quit, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to her fellow league bowlers.

She is, after all, still putting up scores much higher than her age.

Frank, from Billings, is rolling toward 100 and proving that some people just never get old while participating in two 55-and-over senior leagues every week at Fireside Lanes.

The white-haired, diminutive right-hander, born on Feb. 14, 1920, is thought to be the oldest league bowler in the state.

“It’s about the only thing I do, besides go to church,” Frank said of her love for the game. “I also paint and crochet and make a lot of lemon meringue and apple pies.”

The near-centenarian is certainly a bowling celebrity in the Wednesday afternoon Jubilee Seniors league at Fireside, when she recently put together a 194 game, a staggering 74 pins above her 120 average.

“She has a hard time remembering that she is 99,” youngest daughter Sandi Olson, 67, said. “She still thinks that she is in her 30s. She used to bowl in the 190s all of the time.”

Frank’s “R Team” includes her two daughters, Sandi and Iris Weisgerber, 72, both of Billings, and Sandi’s husband, Steve Olson, 67.

“After she gave up her driver’s license, we could have just dropped her off down here,” Steve said. “But we elected to join her.”

That was three years ago.

Around 40 bowlers make up the 10 teams in the Jubilee Seniors league, which also offers extra exercise and plenty of socializing.

"I find her absolutely amazing," fellow bowler Bruce Phillips, 79, said of Frank.

Her team is sitting in second place in the standings with one week to go, after winning it all last year.

“She loves it,” Iris said. “She is always hard on herself if she doesn’t do very well. She gets kind of flustered and I say, ‘Mom, it’s just a game.’ ”

With almost every strike and spare, Frank receives a lot of applause and attention from her fellow seniors. Make no mistake about it, though, she is a feisty competitor.

“She gets a little ticked off if she gets beat,” league secretary Marilyn Harmon, 79, said. “That’s OK. It keeps her trying.”

“She’s very competitive, let’s put it that way,” Sandi added. “She likes to win. Everybody will tell you that.”

Counting warm-ups and games, Frank invests about six hours a week in the sport she has been pursuing since she began competing with her late husband, Phillip, in Joliet around the early 1960s.

The family still owns a farm in the Joliet area, but she has been living and bowling in Billings for nearly 15 years.

“I have been doing it for so long, I would be lost if I didn’t go bowling,” Frank said.

In addition to her two daughters, Frank, who was married for 64 years, has three sons, Clifford, Marvin and Gary, all in their 70s. She has 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

“When she turned 90, we had a party for her in Laurel and she bowled against all of the grand kids,” Sandi said. “She beat us all.”

Frank brings along two balls when she hits the lanes. The red one weighs 11 pounds and the blue one 12 pounds.

The blue ball likes to break as it approaches the pins, while the red one follows a straighter course, she said.

After struggling a little in games of 104 and 134, Frank came up with her 194, which is her highest score of the season.

“Because of the (oil) conditions of the alleys, the (ball) that breaks was breaking too much and she couldn’t control it,” Steve said. “So the last game, she went to the ball that doesn’t break and look what happened.

“She figured it out on her own.”

Frank, who is sometimes bothered by a troublesome right knee, shuffles on her four-step approach, and is very deliberate with her delivery.

At her age, she has slow ball speed, which is understandable, but is still very adept at adjusting to lane conditions.

“You should see all the shots she makes,” Sandi said. “We just go ‘what!’ I always say that her ball is possessed. It does things ours won’t do.”

Frank’s blue ball rolls precariously close to the right gutter. Then, with a little coaxing from her along the way, it will make a break to the left before crashing into the pins.

“I do the best I can,” she said. “I don’t bowl as well as I did. I would like to be better, but at least I’ve got good health.”

Harmon presented Frank with a bowling-themed birthday cake for her 99th birthday.

“We’re going to have a big celebration next year,” she added.

“If I am able to, I will,” Frank said of bowling at age 100.

“When it comes time to sign up,” Iris said. “She’ll be here.”

Email Bill Bighaus at Bill.Bighaus@406MTSports.com

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