Rusty Webker doesn’t even try to hide it. In fact, nor should he.
When his friend... one of the world’s friends, in fact — Frank Miklacic — lost his life two Fridays ago in a tragic mowing accident, like all who had the pleasure of knowing the man known for his huge heart and, oh by the way, as the owner/operator of Jefferson Lanes, it hit Webker hard.
“I was stunned... I shed some tears,” Webker said. “He was a family member to everyone who bowled at Jefferson Lanes. He was there for everyone. It did not matter if you had a 200 or 100 average, or if you was just there to watch.”
Webker said Miklacic, who bought Jefferson Lanes in 1978, was fighting the good fight in terms of attempting to keep bowling alive in this area.
“He was doing everything he could with the help of others to keep the bowling alley going, while another alley closed in today’s economy and the number of bowlers dropping off at an alarming rate,” Webker said. “A couple of years ago he said to me. ‘I’m thinking about putting a wall in and doing away with four or six alleys. What’s your opinion?
“I said, ‘I really cannot answer you as you are the one paying the bills.’”
Webker said Miklacic — who spent the last three and a half decades donating to every possible cause in the Jefferson community or sponsoring teams, such as in the Jefferson Area Girls Softball league — was having a difficult time keeping the doors of Jefferson Lanes open.
“He said, ‘it’s getting harder and harder to pay for heating the place,’ and he was trying to figure a way to help cut it back,” Webker said. “Frank said, ‘I have to do something to keep this place going. A lot of people are still having fun.”
As if by fate, Jefferson Lanes received an influx of bowlers, though it did so at the cost of a fellow bowling house.
“Soon after saying that, another alley closed its doors and he picked up several bowlers, which helped out a lot,” Webker said. “Just this past fall, he said he wished he could figure out a way to get more junior bowlers.
“’I can’t compete against the schools. They have gone to many Saturday morning practices and are killing the leagues across the county.’”
Despite health issues of his own, Miklacic never lost his love of the game, even as a competitor.
“A couple years ago, he called me and said, ‘what are you doing on Wednesday nights. Can you bowl?’” Webker said. “I told him I could try. The doctor said all I could do is give it a whirl and if I can I can, if I can’t I can’t.
“He says, ‘I need another old guy for my team in the winter league.’ Gee thanks!”
Webker said that with his trademark laugh.
“The name of our team was, ‘The 4 Old Guys,’” Webker said. “We had more doggone fun!”
Soon, though, Miklacic’s health started to effect his own perception of his contributions to The 4 Old Guys.
“As the season went on, he had a foot bothering him and he struggled to bowl,” Webker said. “He said he should quit because he was hurting us. I reminded him that we were there to have fun, scores did not matter.
“That’s what he would say to others who said the same thing over the years — ‘have fun, live it up and come again.’”
Webker’s daughters, Sarah and Kristen, made quite a name for themselves as young bowlers, thanks in no small part, to Miklacic.
“When Sarah started bowling, Frank was — and still was — a big hit to her and one of her biggest supporters,” Webker said. “At times, we talked with her about bowling in a different league in Pennsylvania where there were more bowlers.
“She said, ‘no, I can't do that to Frank. He has always been there for me and it wouldn’t fair for me to leave him.’”
Webker said the feelings of his daughter were not unusual... not at all.
“That’s the way people felt about Frank,” he said. “If Kristen was not with us when we came on Saturday mornings, he immediately wanted to know where she was and if she was OK.
“He did his best to keep things going for everyone who bowled at Jefferson Lanes and I have to say, although it hurts we didn't get to say goodbye, I will always have the memories of him being my friend.
“I could go on and on as there is nowhere to stop. Rest in peace, Frank.
“You are missed by everyone who new you. Our sympathy to your entire family.”
McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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