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Bowling rolls in the Moeller family: Intergenerational team participates in Lewis County bowling league

Feb. 7—At 88 years old, Ron Moeller of Centralia has lived in Alaska and been both a computer engineer and a missionary, but through it all and no matter where he's lived, one thing has remained constant — his love for bowling.

Now in retirement, he's part of an intergenerational bowling team with two of his sons, Steve Moeller, 67, of Orting, and Mike Moeller, 53, of Eatonville, along with his grandson, Bryce Dobyns, 24, of Chehalis. Despite being the team's oldest member, Ron is still throwing strikes with the rest of them.

In fact, when The Chronicle met with Ron and his team, the Goldpanners, at Fairway Lanes in Centralia on Monday, Feb. 1, for weekly Lewis County Bowling Association league play in the Gene Jonas Commercial men's league, Ron led his team in strikes, throwing 19 over the course of three games.

That included four strikes over the first four frames in his first game and three in a row in the 10th frame of the second game.

At the end of the night, he was the only member of the Goldpanners to score over 200 in all three games. The adage says with age comes experience, and at 88, Ron has the advantage in that department.

His love of bowling began as a child raised in Lutheran churches in Chicago, Illinois, where he was born.

"My dad bowled, and they went to a Lutheran church outside of Chicago, a great bowling town ... and a lot of the Lutheran churches in those days had bowling alleys in their basements," Ron said. "Bowling kind of goes back to Martin Luther. That's what they say. He was kind of the first bowler."

His childhood church had a small alley in its basement with two lanes, and from ages 12 to 16, Ron would reset the pins for players after each throw.

"This was before they had automatic pinsetters," Ron added.

Resetting the pins ended up being his first job. He was paid 10 cents per player per game, and aside from working at his church doing this job, he also worked as a pinsetter at the local bowling alley in Mundelein, just north of Chicago, where his family lived during his teenage years.

"After I got married in 1954, and we had four kids in our first five years of marriage. I was 18 and she was 17," Ron said.

With the four new kids, one of whom was Steve, bowling took a backseat to childrearing, but by the time he was 26, he was back playing in a bowling league in Barrington, Illinois, while he was working for IBM.

"I was working on the first IBM machines, programming those first machines that were coming out in the 1950s. It was card processing," Ron said.

From 1963 to 1966, Ron attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and got interested in doing missions. His family also switched denominations, going from a Lutheran church to a Bible church.

So in 1966, Ron, his wife, Sherian, and their four children moved from the Chicago area.

Their destination? Fairbanks, Alaska, a nearly 3,500-mile drive that took the Moellers 10 days to complete.

"We went to help out a Denali Bible chapel in Fairbanks," Ron said.

His church work coincided with work at a local certified public accountant office. The family lived in Fairbanks for the next 20 years, during which time Ron and Sherian had two more children, including Mike. His current bowling team's name, the Goldpanners, is an ode to an independent barnstorming collegiate summer baseball team he used to watch play in Alaska — the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, who still play today.

"My wife and I also bowled together on a team up there for a number of years," Ron said.

By the 1980s, construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System had been completed. Suddenly, many Alaskan towns that experienced economic booms and growth with thousands of construction workers moving for the then-completed project found themselves out of work, leading to a localized economic depression. In 1986, the Moellers moved to Kent.

"In 1987, I got a job at Symons Frozen Foods in Centralia," Ron added. "That kept me busy for the next 22 years."

He worked as an accountant and a bookkeeper for the company and of course started bowling in Centralia at Fairway Lanes in the same league he's still in today. In 2006, he bought a house in Ocean Shores and moved but, even at 70 years old, he was still driving back and forth from Centralia for work.

In 2011, Sherian passed away, and Ron decided to move to Centralia where he has been ever since. As for the Goldpanners, the team only recently formed a few years ago as a way to keep the family gathering together despite being spread out over Western Washington.

"It's really been fun to do that. It was kind of the goal to have the whole family together again because everybody's separated. It's not easy anymore to get together," Ron said.

Both Steve and Mike grew up bowling with their parents.

"I grew up in a bowling alley in Fairbanks, Alaska," Mike said. "Every Friday night, my little sister and I would hang out in a bowling alley in the 70s."

Mike only recently returned to bowling, though, as he had spent 30 years as a high school baseball coach, leaving him little time for the leisure sport. While he still teaches at Eatonville High School, he has retired as a coach and now has time to bowl again.

"There's other factors as to why I stepped away from coaching baseball, but one of the factors was to be able to bowl in the league with my dad and my brother, which is something I never had time to do as a baseball coach," Mike added.

He and Steve carpool and meet in Yelm to commute to Centralia every week for league play. Now retired himself, Steve originally took after Ron and worked as a computer programmer.

"I fell in love with computers and all that when it came out in the 70s," Steve said.

Steve has bowled together with his father since then, including on a USA Bowling National Championships family team. They ended up placing fourth in their team's division in 2007.

While Ron has never won the championship in the Centralia league, Steve added both he and Ron did win the championship in a Fairbanks league participating in a mixed doubles team with their wives.

After all these years, he's thankful to still be playing on a family team with his dad.

"It's all because of his love for bowling. It's been his passion ever since he grew up setting up pins in the old days in Chicago," Steve said. "It's not a lot of exercise, but I think the exercise, it is has kept him healthy over the years, and the competitive juice is always something good to have."

Bryce is still fairly new to the game, having just graduated from Grand Canyon University in Arizona.

"I've bowled on and off growing up. I haven't really bowled a whole lot, and this is my first year on the bowling team," Bryce said. "It's been a lot of fun, very cool to see my grandpa beat me every week still."

The Moeller family still rolls together in the Gene Jonas Commercial Men's league every Monday night at Fairway Lanes, located at 1501 S. Gold St. in Centralia.