- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

BALTIMORE (AP) The miniature pins and palm-size balls used for duckpin bowling may be unrecognizable to most of the country, but passion for the sport sometimes approaches religious fervor in the city of its birth.

Just ask members of Stephen and James Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The congregation gathered on the maple-wood lanes of Southway Bowling Center recently to pay homage to the 61-year-old landmark, which closed for good on Saturday.

"We know in our heart and in our memories that God's grace was present with us each time we bowled," said Mel Tansill, a church member. "For this, we gather together today in His name to give thanks."

Southway, located a half-block from the church in the Federal Hill neighborhood, soon will become nine 2,000-square-foot loft apartments.

The news hit hard in Baltimore, especially at Stephen and James Church. Church leagues competed at Southway for decades, and generations of children rolled their first gutter balls there.

Baseball great Babe Ruth, perhaps Baltimore's most famous son, is said to have bowled on lanes 14 and 15.

"When an aspect of community life vanishes, part of community life dies with it," Mr. Tansill said.

Unlike many in his congregation, the Rev. Lowell S. Thompson is not an avid bowler. But the pastor agreed to dedicate part of his Sunday service to Southway because he knew how much it meant to the South Baltimore community.

On the altar, next to the Bible and underneath a life-size painting of Jesus and Peter, was a duckpin shrine complete with pins, Mr. Tansill's bowling ball and bag from when he was age 12 and a pair of size 7 shoes.

Next to the shrine was a worn church-league roster from Nov. 26, 1948. On the hymn board there was just one number 300, a perfect bowling game.

"It's appropriate to remember an institution that has brought so much joy and take a moment to reflect upon that," Mr. Thompson said.

Federal Hill Lofts LLC, a joint partnership of developers Patrick Turner of Henrietta Corp. and Glenn Charlow of Manekin Corp., plans to gut the building this month, and the apartments should be ready by May.

Because he has heard so many nostalgic stories about Southway from the community, Mr. Turner said he plans to donate the 25 lanes to anyone who wants to move them out, although he hasn't had any takers yet.

"I didn't realize people had such passion for duckpin bowling," Mr. Turner said.

Alva Brown, who was inducted into the National Duckpin Hall of Fame in 1964, ran the bowling alley with her son, Rand.

She said she was so upset about the bowling alley's closing that she couldn't bear to go to the church service.

Her son went across the street and brought back a dozen pink roses the congregation had bought for her.

"I just couldn't go; I couldn't do it," she said, her eyes filling with tears.

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