Laurel Lanes owner Vern Elkhart with Port Angeles Business Association president Anthony Sanders receiving his hall of fame plaque back in January. (Courtesy photo)

Laurel Lanes owner Vern Elkhart with Port Angeles Business Association president Anthony Sanders receiving his hall of fame plaque back in January. (Courtesy photo)

BOWLING: Laurel Lanes’ Vern Elkhart inducted into Westsound bowling hall of fame

PORT ANGELES — Bowling alleys in small towns all across the country have been closing down over the past few decades. Sequim and Port Townsend are good examples, both of which lost their bowling alleys years ago.

Now, there are only two bowling alleys on the Olympic Peninsula — Sunset Lanes in Forks and Laurel Lanes in Port Angeles.

Vern Elkhart has kept bowling not only going but thriving in Port Angeles for nearly 60 years, through changing economies and a devastating pandemic that shut down alleys across the country, some permanently.

For his service to the community and to bowling, Elkhart was inducted earlier this year into the Westsound United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, based in Port Orchard. The Westsound USBC certifies bowling in Kitsap, Jefferson, Clallam and north Mason counties.

“I can honestly say that this recognition is well-deserved and long overdue,” said Westsound USBC vice president Leo Funari Jr. at his induction ceremony held at Laurel Lanes. “Vern, I would like to congratulate your induction into the Westsound USBC Hall of Fame. And as we say in the military, ‘Bravo Zulu on a job well-done’.”

Elkhart hasn’t just owned Laurel Lanes since 1966 (first as a part-owner, then a full owner in 1967), but he’s also a champion bowler himself. He began bowling in 1953, had two seasons of 200-plus average, has three sanctioned 300 games, had 10 games with 11 strikes in a row, was a member of the Kitsap Scratch Bowlers Association all-star team in 1984-85, holds six KSBO titles and is already a member of the Kitsap Scratch Bowlers Association Hall of Fame. He served on the KSBO board for six years on top of that.

Laurel Lanes hosts a total of seven adult leagues and two youth leagues in the winter and fall. Two high school teams call Laurel Lanes home. The Sequim High School girls, who no longer have lanes to bowl at in Sequim, play their home matches at Laurel Lanes, as does the relatively new Port Angeles team, which just completed its second season.

The bowling alley also hosts plenty of birthday parties and other events.

“People like to have a place where the whole family can come,” he said.

Elkhart is humble about the Westsound USBC Hall of Fame induction.

“I’m not real big on recognition, I guess,” he said. He was also honored, however.

“I think to be honored by your peers says volumes,” he said. “I’ve worked hard to make everything right. I bowled well in my heyday [and] I’ve had an opportunity to make a living at a sport that I like.”

Elkhart said he has slowed down a little and can no longer bowl but has no immediate plans to retire.

“I’m doing less now than I once did. I have no desire to move on and I’m too old to start over,” he said. “I will keep doing this as long as I still can.”

Perhaps the biggest crisis to hit Laurel Lanes was the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the business for numerous months. In fact, the pandemic shut down some bowling alleys in Washington permanently.

Elkhart gives credit to the people of the area who raised funds through GoFundMe to help Laurel Lanes pay its bill. The business also was able to secure some federal pandemic assistance.

“It was the community that really stepped up,” Elkhart said.

Elkhart said ultimately, he will likely sell Laurel Lanes when he’s ready. But he isn’t ready yet.

“I don’t have an exit plan yet. I know I won’t be here forever. There is an exit plan … I just don’t know when that will be,” he said.

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