Robert Sammeli, who has rolled four 700-series and, in 2004, a perfect 300 game, has been bowling for 58 years. That dedication to the sport led to him being honored in June by the United States Bowling Congress for 50 years' participation in the Arizona State Bowling Tournament.
He was introduced to bowling at 16 when he had the opportunity to earn some money setting pins at a four-lane bowling alley in Clarkdale, Ariz. In his pin setting "career" he earned 10 cents a game, or 11 cents if he could move two five-person teams through in two hours. That came to $1.60 an hour back then.
After graduating high school, Sammeli enlisted in the Navy and continued his involvement with the game.
"In the Navy I bowled and set pins on Kodiak Island in Alaska," he said. "I was transferred to San Diego and worked at Point Loma creating training aids - doing lettering and pictures on transparencies for overhead projectors. I set pins and bowled at the Sonar Base at Point Loma."
He returned to the Cottonwood area after he was discharged from the Navy.
"I started bowling in a league in Prescott," Sammeli said. "We would drive about 45 miles over Mingus Mountain every Monday night to bowl in the 9 p.m. league; then drive back over Mingus, getting home around midnight. Sometimes the snow was falling and it was pretty hairy."
In 1958, his step-father, Orville Davenport and a man named Duard Langford made a trip from Clarkdale to Kingman to salvage six hard-wood bowling lanes from the Kingman Club. They moved those six lanes to Cottonwood, added four more lanes and opened a 10-lane facility with automatic pinsetters. The pin-setting days were over.
"In 1960, I started going to the state tournaments and I've been at it ever since," he said. "That was also the year that I married Sharlene Murdock, the love of my life."
The Sammeli's have been in Kingman for 45 years. Once a carpenter, avid golfer and bowler, Bob now enjoys gardening and spending time with his grandchildren - Macy, Mariah and Austin Sammeli.
"After a heart attack and five-way bypass surgery, a full knee replacement and years of arthritis, it's not as easy as it once was, but I had to make it to 50 years," Sammeli said of his dedication to the state event.
"When I first started bowling, my average was 180, and 188 was my highest average. Last year my average was 120-something. Now, my bowling days are over," he said with resignation, but no real disappointment.
At this year's state tournament, Bob bowled with Sharlene, his sons Ken and David and David's wife Cherish. The family was there, firsthand, to see the USBC present Bob with a crystal bowling pin trophy.
Although he, Sharlene and their entire family bowl, no trophies adorn the Sammeli home. Even the 50-year participation award is tucked away in the molded-foam box it came in. It's not about the bragging rights, it's about personal achievement, and he achieved his goal of 50 years' competition in a sport he loves.