Thursday night is League Night at Ravenna Bowl in Ravenna, Mich.
Thursday night, Oct. 16, was no exception. The Commercial League began its matches promptly at 6:30 pm. But very quickly that Thursday night turned into a bizarre evening unlike any in Ravenna’s history.
Ravenna Township, established 1849, sits about 20 miles east of Lake Michigan in central Michigan. The town of 1,206 residents boasts of its own fire department, library, historical museum, elementary school, middle school and high school. But no stoplights. It’s a place where everybody knows their neighbor.
They take their bowling seriously in Ravenna. Bowling kind of keeps everyone going through the interminable winter. As each league night passes, everyone’s another week closer to the end of winter’s long siege.
No Ravennian bowled with more enthusiasm than 62-year-old Don Doane. He’d been a member of the “Nutt Farm” team for 45 years. His lifetime goal was to bowl a perfect 300 game. Just once.
And that’s part of the beauty of sport. Every participant can have a goal. You don’t need to be Tiger Woods on the golf course. Anyone can aspire to break any barrier, whether its 70 of 100. Anyone can make a hole-in-one.
You don’t have to be a world class runner to try to beat last year’s half marathon time. The glory is in setting personal goals and reaching to achieve them.
On the night of Oct. 16, that’s exactly what Don Doane did. Frame after frame, he set them up and knocked them down. Every single pin on every single ball.
Finally, incredibly, there it was: 12 strikes in a row. A perfect 300 game.
Pandemonium ensued. And there was Doane, wearing a smile you could see a mile, shaking hands and high-fiving everyone in the alley.
An old friend, 80-year-old Frank Coletta, recalled congratulating Doane. “Looks like anybody can bowl a 300 game,” said Coletta, as told to John Branch of the New York Times. Replied Doane, “Even a guy your age.”
“He had the biggest smile on his face,” teammate George Denhof told WZZM-13 News. “The last thing I saw was that big smile. The next thing I know, he fell.”
“He looked fine,” teammate Todd Place told WZZM. “Reached across the table and gave me a high five, and he fell over. I think he died by the time he hit the floor.”
Can you imagine a better way to go? Talk about saving your best till last, going out on top, living life till the end — is there a better gift anyone could ever imagine?
“What a great way to die,” Denhof told WZZM. “Doing something you always wanted to do. The last thing you can remember is being happy. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
“It was like a book, a final chapter,” added Place. “He threw his 300 game with all his friends, gave each other high fives, and … it’s like the story ended. He died with a smile on his face.”
Rev. Tony De La Rosa of Conklin Reformed Church, where Doane served as a Deacon, gave Branch a theologian’s perspective. “From a faith point of view, we all hope we can accomplish what God has put before us. And that we don’t linger, that we get called home.
“He went out with a bang. What a blessing.”
Two Thursdays ago, Ravenna Bowl was packed again. Yes, it was League Night. But this night had another purpose. It was the night to remember Don Doane.
His widow, Linda — who met Don at the alley 45 years ago — and son, Chad, accepted the commemorative “300” rings presented by members of the United States Bowling Congress. And everyone recalled how Doane had brightened their lives.
An oft-told tale involved the time Doane’s sobriety was tested. The traffic officer tossed some coins on the road, and told Doane to pick up the quarter. Doane picked up two dimes and a nickel. “That summed him up,” Linda told Branch.
“He was a loyal friend and he was honest,” Erv Klein told WZZM. “Don was Don. He went out in style. I always knew he would.”
“He would like to beat you out of 10 bucks, but wouldn’t cheat you out of a penny,” Doug Henrickson told WZZM. “He was as honest a man as I’ve ever known. At the end of his life, he did something that can’t be beat. You can’t beat a 300 game.”
Perhaps Doane’s 85-year-old father, Mick, had the best take on his son’s extraordinary passing. “Don was on cloud nine after the perfect game,” he told Branch. “And he liked it so much, that he didn’t want to come down.”
May we all be so lucky.
When not practicing his avocation, Denton Ashway practices his vocation with the law firm of Ashway and Haldi in Cumming.