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Bowling: Lan-Oak Lanes rolling with the changes

Donald Genovese Lan-Oak Lanes. | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media

Donald Genovese, of Lan-Oak Lanes. | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 1, 2014 7:02AM



Donald Genovese gave Lan-Oak Lanes quite a 60th birthday present in August when he installed new synthetic lanes and approaches.

“We’re very happy with them,” he said.

So, without a doubt, are the bowlers, who are averaging 10 to 15 pins better than they were in past years.

“Things have changed,” Genovese said. “The bowling balls are so much better now, the lanes are better and the machines that oil and dress the lanes every day keeps the lanes consistent.

“Years ago, all the centers would have a sign saying that this meat market or that (market) would give you $300 if you bowled a 300. Well, there weren’t that many. Now, most centers have two or three 300s a week. In a way it’s gotten out of hand, but right now there’s not much you can do about it.”

Genovese, at age 79, is a man content with his 16-lane world, one of Lansing’s most enduring — and endearing — landmarks.

The Genovese family — Michael and Mary, along with sons Donald and Wayne — already had been known in the Lansing region for their poultry business. Donald was 18 when he came home from Thornton Fractional High School one day in 1952 to some startling news.

“(My father) said, ‘I’m going to build a bowling alley.’ And that was it.”

Lan-Oak Lanes opened for business in 1953.

“At one time the west side of Lansing was called Oak Glen,” Donald Genovese said. “They had a railroad station and a small post office. So my dad put the two together and made Lan-Oak.”

In order to build Lan-Oak Lanes, Michael and Mary Genovese sold their home and moved in with Mary’s parents. It turned out to be a risk worth taking. The Genovese family turned enough profit that they were able to purchase a home again four years later.

The eight-lane establishment became one of the popular spots in Lansing, so popular that in 1959 it was expanded to 16 lanes. Michael Genovese recruited Donald, who was a factory mechanic, and his brother Wayne, to work full-time at Lan-Oak.

In 1962, the elder Genovese suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while working behind the counter and died at age 52. The two sons carried on until Wayne Genovese moved to Arizona in 1979, selling his half of the business to Donald.

“My father taught me a lot about being customer-oriented, and about hard work and dedication,” Donald Genovese said.

Since then, Donald has been a fixture as the manager at the lanes. His sons, Tom and Dale, split shifts, while his wife Natalie, is the bookkeeper.

Donald, Tom and Dale during their bowling careers have achieved 300 games, Donald and Tom with two each and Dale with eight.

Lan-Oak Lanes, meanwhile, carries on.

“The main (obstacle) is the economy,” Donald Genovese said. “Back in the ’50s and ’60s, everybody had a job. They would go to work, and come in (to the lanes) happy. As years have gone by and places have started downsizing, customers aren’t quite as happy as they used to be. Plus, ladies are working full-time now. The centers don’t have as many daytime ladies leagues.

“There are advantages and disadvantages to being a 16-lane center. You’ve got to be involved in it. You can’t hire a full-time manager or a full-time mechanic. I’ve got my two boys working for me, and I do the office work. But we all still enjoy the game of bowling, and the public.”



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