By Mike LaBella
---- — The bowling alleys attached to St. Joseph’s School has always held a special place in Joe Colella’s heart.
Thirty-nine years ago, he met his future wife, Kathy, there. Her father, Ray Marston, ran the lanes for years.
At the time the building also had pool tables, ping pong tables and slot cars. Now it’s purely bowling, along with a lot of fun for people young and old.
“I was shooting pool, got introduced to her, and that was it,” Colella said about his wife, who works in the office of All Saints Parish as the business manager.
In 1998, several Haverhill parishes in the city’s Mount Washington area merged and the bowling complex was renamed All Saints Bowling Lanes. Colella was working a full-time job at the time and also worked parttime at the lanes.
When he retired four years ago, he took over as manager of the lanes and since then a lot of changes have taken place.
“We hardly had any kids, as the place was in need of cosmetics,” Colella said. “We put in new carpets, new seat covers, we refinished the alleys and cleaned the pins, and we did a lot of painting.
“Since then business has grown,” he said. “The place is active and a lot of parents really like it. It’s a nice place they can bowl with their kids.”
Colella, who is 65, got lots of help giving the center a face lift, including from St. Joseph School seventh- and eighth-graders, who painted a psychedelic ‘60’s style mural on the wall.
“We brought the place back to life and I’m proud of it,” Colella said, recalling a moment when his wife’s mother helped with cleaning the complex.
“She was on her hands and knees scrubbing beneath the scoring tables,” he said.
A more inviting bowling center opened the door to a program for St. Joseph students. About 50 of them now bowl after school one day a week. They include children from the Early Childhood Center.
“A lot of kids like to bowl in socks, but we have shoes in all sizes,” Colella said. “The kids have a really great time and they are very competitive. They all get together and bowl, along with teachers, the principal and even our priests. Everyone gets involved.”
There are no arcade games and no computerized scoring. Colella says it’s “old-school bowling” where you have to keep score with pencil and paper.
“The kids love it, plus it’s good for their math skills,” he said. “And for seniors, it helps keep the mind sharp.
“You wouldn’t believe how many adults ask us to show them how to keep score,” Colella said. “It’s like a refresher course for people who are used to computerized scoring.”
Some of the children call Colella “Uncle Joe.’’
“It’s nice to see the smiles on their faces,” he said.
The bowling complex hosts a men’s league on Tuesday nights and a men’s and women’s mixed league on Thursday nights.
Several years ago, Colella worked with Kathy Bresnahan at the city’s Council on Aging to create a senior citizens social bowling league that meets on Mondays.
Men bowl first, followed by women.
“We started with a few guys and now we have more than a dozen, including former mayor Lewis Burton,” Colella said.
To encourage more seniors to bowl, Colella charges them just $4.50 for three strings, including coffee and shoe rental.
“It’s just to get people to come down, get some exercise and maybe make some new friends,” Colella said, noting the regular price is $2 per string for adults and 75 cents for shoes. Kids pay $1.50 per string.
Along with some healthy competition between the men, a little wagering goes on — just for some added fun.
“We put a dollar in the kitty and the highest average walks off with the money,” Colella said.
Colella rents the place out too, including for birthday parties, anniversary parties and other family events.
Public bowling is on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
But, Colella is always available to modify the hours of operation.
“A lot of people who came for parties tell me they didn’t know the place existed,” Colella said. “I tell them we’ve been here for a long, long time.”