BJI History Part 1 — Dave Luby: A Bowler Through and Through

by Bob Johnson 0


I never knew my grandfather, David A. Luby, the man who started this magazine and founded our company. He died in 1925, six years before I was born.

But we know quite a bit about Dave because of the Bowlers Journal archives and the fascinating accounts of his long life in other magazines and newspapers.

“As far as bowling was concerned, he was a national institution,” said an obituary in the December 1925 edition of Billiards Magazine. “He was an all-around, big-hearted man who numbered his friends by the thousands.”

We know that Dave was born in Newark, N.J., in 1857, but the rest of the Luby family background remains slightly mysterious. I vaguely recall being told that all my paternal forebears were from Ireland. The fact that there are so many Lubys, Lubes, Loobys, O’Lubys and O’Loobys in the Dublin telephone book would seem to confirm this. (There’s even a town in County Tipperary called Bally Looby.)

As I wandered through various Internet genealogy sites, I saw that a man who might possibly have been Dave’s father (thus my great-grandfather), one Edward Luby, had told the census takers that he was from Bavaria. Checking further, I learned that there is actually a town on the German-Czech border called Luby. It is a center of violin manufacturing. My personal take on this matter, however, is that Dave’s forebears were most likely from the Auld Sod, Irish to the bone.

Whatever his ancestry, we do know for certain that Dave grew up in Newark and became an excellent baseball player there. Sometime before the turn of the century, he moved to Chicago and married an Irish immigrant named Annie McKeon. She was still alive when I was a kid, and I can still recall her funny little brogue. Dave and Annie had five children: Grace, Irene, James, Forrest and J. Morton, my father and the long-time publisher of this magazine. Sadly, Irene and James died in childhood.

Dave began bowling after injuries cut short a promising baseball career. He bowled his first game at the Webster Alleys on Chicago’s north side and was hooked for life.

He became the manager of Chicago’s Century team and led the club to victory in the 1906 American Bowling Congress Championships. In 1911, he teamed with Pete Howley to form the famous Randolph League. Dave’s Howard Majors won the league’s first championship.

Despite his ability as a manager and competitor, Dave never actually won a major title on his own. He led the 1911 Chicago City tournament with an 1879 all-events total until the last day, when a one-armed bowler named Ned Nelson outscored him by one pin.

Meanwhile, Dave supported his family by selling shoes. As a salesman for M.D. Wells and Company, he traveled downstate Illinois, calling on shoe stores.

There was plenty of bowling action in towns ranging from Peoria to Springfield, so Dave spent most of his on-the-road evenings on the lanes. He bowled frequently in downstate tournaments and began to win more and more prize money.

Worried that his shoe company bosses might accuse him of malingering, he adopted the pseudonym Dave Howard when he registered for tournaments. The Howard name began to appear with increasing frequency in the sports pages, and his nom de plume became a private joke in the bowling fraternity.

Finally, his little charade was exposed. Instead of firing him, Dave’s bosses simply asked that he use his own name when he bowled tournaments. They figured that the publicity would be good for business.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.