Helen Duval dies

by Bob Johnson 0

Helen Duval, a WIBC/USBC Hall of Famer, passed away on July 29. She was 94.

“Helen was a very talented bowler and she touched so many people’s lives through her work with the Bowlers to Veterans Link and her years of coaching youth bowlers in California,” said USBC President Darlene Baker, who also chairs the BVL board. “She was a tremendous ambassador for the sport and will be greatly missed.”

A lifetime resident of Berkeley, Calif., Duval started bowling in 1938 and joined her first league a year later. She had taken a job after graduating from high school and after work each day she had to wait for the bus to go home. She passed the time by watching people bowl at the nearby Cal-Rec Center.

“Somebody asked me if I’d like to try bowling,” Duval recalled in a 2006 article for the Contra Costa Times. “I had never tried it before. I was a natural.”

She would go on to become one of the pioneers of women’s bowling, and was a participant as the women’s professional bowling movement began in 1959. She won two pro titles during her career, and in 1961 captured the Nationals Doubles tournament with Nobu Asami.

In 1969, Duval won both the team event and all-events titles in the WIBC Championships.

Duval also proved to be a great teacher of the sport. She started teaching bowling clinics in the 1950s when the American Junior Bowling Congress requested she help bring the sport to California’s youth. After impressing people in the States, Duval traveled to Asia where she conducted more bowling clinics and seminars.

She said in a 1992 Bowlers Journal article that her son, Richard, was her motivation. Richard was diagnosed with polio at age 5 and was hospitalized for almost a year. But Duval helped her son to bowl — he started in a wheelchair and later was able to stand at the foul line — and Richard eventually became accomplished enough to have a short stint on the PBA Tour. The experience of working with her son helped her develop techniques for teaching disabled individuals.

Dave Williams, a long-time AMF staffer along with Duval, remembers Rich Duval well.

“Rich was an unbelievable bowler,” Williams said. “He was a few years older than me, but I remember his unique style. He would stand at the foul line, bring the bowling ball up over his head, and release it with all the power and finesse of a pro bowler.

“I never asked, but learned in later years that he had suffered from polio, which necessitated his style,” Williams added. “Using an AMF 3-Dot at the prestigious Castle Lanes (San Francisco) Junior Holiday Tournament, he averaged an impressive 235 one year.”

Helen Duval would go on to do extensive work with the BVL, the non-profit group that provides programs to veteran and active duty service men and women. For more than 20 years, she went to veterans hospitals across the country to teach bowling.

The BVL named her honorary co-chair in 1985, and in 2000 she received the Secretary’s Award, the highest award given by the Department of Veterans Affairs, for her unwavering commitment to America’s veterans.

Duval was honored as a “bowling legend” at the National Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum’s Salute to Champions gala in 1993. Two years later, she received the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America V.A. Wapensky Award. She was selected as the BPAA’s Dick Weber Bowling Ambassador Award recipinet in 2007.

Duval, who owned an eight-lane bowling center in Oakland, Calif., along with her husband, Rosy, was one of the first women to become a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. She served for five years, following her appointment during the Kennedy administration.

She was inducted into the WIBC Hall of Fame for Superior Performance in 1970, and was added to the Ladies Professional Bowlers Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1996, she was inducted into the Senior Athletes Hall of Fame.

“Another legend passes on,” William lamented. “Like Bill Bunetta, I remember Helen Duval coming to our small town to do clinics. She always wore a snow white shirt with the big red and black, circular AMF logo on her left chest. But more than the clinics, I remember traveling to Helen’s bowling center and rolling in youth tournaments.  

“Helen had a remarkable knack for remembering names, a trait that always impressed me with the likes of Dick Weber and Nelson Burton,” Williams added. “And she enjoyed bowling as much as giving the clinics.

“I remember her bringing a contingent of bowlers every year to bowl in our ‘Apple Blossom Classic’ at the L & L Lanes in Sebastopol, Calif. The owner of L & L Lanes, Primo Liberatore, had a unique way of securing entries in his tournament. With every entry, you received a three-piece chicken dinner, complete with a scoop of salad, roll and drink of your choice. Helen would often quip, ‘Even if I don’t bowl that well, at least I get a free dinner!’”

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 20, at the Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Avenue, in Oakland. In lieu of flowers, a donation in Helen Duval’s name can be sent to the Bowlers to Veterans Link, 11350 Random Hill Rd., Suite 800, Fairfax, VA 22030.

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.