Oman Purvis (second from left) poses with his bowling teammates after he helped lead them to the champions. From left to right is Paul Cagle, Orman Purvis, June West and Benny Smith.
Orman Purvis has been bowling for so long that he almost forgot what it was that got him started in the game. But he definitely remembers what keeps him coming back.
“It’s the fellowship,” said the 95-year-old Conley resident. “Especially the women,” he added, with a hearty chuckle.
Indeed, it is more than the bowling itself that prevents Purvis from hanging up his ball and shoes. Eight years ago when the Primetime Bowlers — a senior bowling league that competes at the Funtime Bowling Lanes bowling alley in Forest Park — was being highlighted in the Clayton News Daily, Purvis was bowling at a 167-per game clip.
Today, he says he’s 30 pounds lighter and still trying to bounce back from about a year of fighting off illness, but he still keeps track of his average with an eye on improving it, of course.
“I’m averaging right around 140,” said Purvis, who’s getting geared up to start a summer league Monday. “Oh, but I can be better. I think I’m just now ready to get back to my regular form.”
Purvis’ passion for bowling is almost as much of a fixture in his life as the Fun Time Bowling Lanes is a fixture in the Forest Park community. The south Georgia native says he’s been around long enough to watch the game evolve.
“I used to bowl right here in this place back in the 50’s and 60’s when it first went up,” he said. “A friend of mine who owned Ralph’s Dry Cleaners in Forest Park started me when the lanes were wooden and the balls were rubber. I was a better bowler then when I used to have what they called a Manhattan rubber ball. I’d hook it to the right side in the 1-3 pocket for a strike every time.”
Now, the lanes are synthetic and the balls can be anything from plastic to polyester. But fellow Primetime Bowler Paul Cagel will tell you that Purvis’ competitive fire hasn’t changed a bit.
“Oh, he’s very competitive, and I admire him for it,” said Cagel, who at age 71 is the baby of the group. “He used to love golf just as much until he injured his hip and then with bowling he just came on up.”
Talk with Purvis long enough and you’ll find out that he is quite a student of the game. So much so, that he used to have Cagel drill balls for him to provide better spin and pin action.
Nowadays, he’s traded in his 16-pound Manhattan for 10- and 12-pound balls, but he still goes after the same result — winning and doing his best.
“My all-time best is 289,” he said.
What about that perfect 300 game?
“Oh, you’re always shooting for that,” he said.
Mary Alice Gladin says that his tenacity on the lanes is reflective of the outlook he has on life in general.
“He’s not only competitive, but he’s just a tough guy,” said Gladin, who admits that her team was pummeled by Purvis’ the last time they played. “He just loves life, loves being active, loves sports. Golf, bowling, football, baseball. He’s a Braves fan and doesn’t forget anything. He’s mad at Brian McCann right now because his average is down.”
But Gladin also tells of a less competitive side of Purvis — and of their bowling league in general. Gladin says that the beauty of their time together is that it’s not just bowling. She said the Primetimers gather for a banquet at the end of each season and used to go out to eat after each game. They remember each others’ birthdays and are there for each other during life’s more trying times.
“It’s just a great support system,” said Gladin. “My sister just died recently and they’re just there for you. Within days I received at least 10 cards.”
And the support is not just kept within the ranks of the league participants, says Funtime owner, Ellen Howard.
“Most of these bowlers have been here longer than I have,” said Howard who has owned Funtime since 2008. “But these seniors just have a special place in my heart. When my mother passed they helped me the same way.”
“They were there for my grandmother too,” Funtime employee, Joni Edmonds chimed in.
“Bowlers really become family,” said Howard.
And it is for that reason Purvis says he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. In fact, the former U.S. Marine says that staying busy has always been his way.
“I’ve been active all my life,” he said. “I joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. Fought at Iwo Jima. Fought in Okinawa. So I’m going to bowl to keep from sitting at home in the rocking chair all day.”
He speaks as if he were a spokesman for seniors who continue to stay vibrant even as they grow old.
“If I could encourage anyone, I’d simply say don’t give up to the rocking chair,” Purvis said. “Do something every day. Even if it’s just walking around the block. Whatever you do, don’t give up to the rocking chair.”