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River Falls bowler retires after 67 years

Avon Kohl, 88, reacts after picking up a spare during the final night of the regular season of the Wednesday Night Ladies City League at St. Croix Lanes. Kohl, a driving force in women’s bowling in western Wisconsin since the mid-1950s and founder of the Ladies City League, is retiring from bowling after 67 years. She bowled her last games April 16, 2014, receiving a standing ovation from her cohorts after rolling her last ball. (Bob Burrows/River Falls Journal)1 / 2
The Avon bowling team is named after the Avon makeup products that 88-year-old Avon Kohl has sold for more than 50 years. This year’s team members include, front row from left, Betty Sue Wolf, Avon Kohl and Joyce Delforge. Back row, Katie Zenk, Katie Powell, Cindy Testa, Nancy Spott and Char Auchampach. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Avon Kohl is not shy about her bowling legacy.

“I’m already a legend,” the feisty 88-year-old said. “I’m not bragging; I’m just great.”

Kohl, founder of the River Falls Women’s Bowling Association, which eventually evolved into the Western Wisconsin Women’s Bowling Association, is retiring from the sport after 67 years. She bowled her last night in the Wednesday Night Ladies City League last week at St. Croix Lanes.

“This is it,” she said. “I’m going to be 89 soon! I can’t wait; a year and a half from now we’re going to have a big party!”

Kohl started bowling in the 1950s.

“That was the only thing to do in a small town in those days,” she said.

The women’s league wasn’t sanctioned back then, so Kohl worked with one of the male bowlers to get it sanctioned by the Wisconsin Women’s Bowling Association and the Women’s International Bowling Congress.

She served as secretary of the River Falls Women’s Bowling Association and the Western Wisconsin Women’s Bowling Association, which serves Hudson, Baldwin, New Richmond and River Falls, until the mid-1980s.

“We started with around 60 or 70 girls, and when I retired there were over 2,000,” she said. “Would you like to handle that many women?”

Kohl bowled through the birth of four of her five children. She bowled through a snowstorm that threatened the arrival of her team in Las Vegas for a national tournament, and through a tornado at a national competition in Milwaukee that knocked the lights out and delayed the matches for two hours.

“Bowlers can adjust to anything,” she said.

In addition to 67 years in the Wednesday Night Ladies City League, Kohl bowled with her husband, Buster, in a Sunday night couples league. After Buster died 19 years ago, she started bowling on Monday nights as well.

“A lot of people quit, but I’m too stubborn,” she said about bowling all those years. “If I could still do it I would, but you have to give in sometime. I probably could do it longer, but the damn ball has got a mind of its own now.”

Current league secretary Nancy Foley said Kohl always greets people with a hug and a smile. “But when you give her a hug back, you have to be gentle,” Foley said. “She is so small, you're afraid you might break a rib.”

Twice a year -- at Christmas and the year-end banquet -- Kohl also gives away one of her homemade afghans.

“We draw a name, but the rule is if you win once you can’t win again,” Kohl said. “Maybe someday everybody will have one.”

Foley said this year college students Katie Powell and Katie Zenk joined the Ladies City League. Both were new to River Falls, but Foley said Kohl made them feel right at home.

“Avon shows up one Wednesday night at bowling with two afghans, one for each girl,” Foley said. “She treated these two young college girls like they were her grandchildren.”

Kohl has been captain and sponsor for numerous teams, including her Riverside Ceramics Shop, which she operated on Main Street, and most recently the Avon makeup products, which she has sold for 56 years. She said she hopes to continue to sponsor teams as a way to remain close to the sport.

“I don’t want to give that up,” she said. “I’ll keep sponsoring them if they have a team next year. I want to take care of my girls.”

Foley said the league won’t be the same without Kohl next year.

“We will miss seeing Avon every Wednesday night with her hug, her smile and her love for bowling,” Foley said.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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