SCARBOROUGH — In the six seconds it took a small bowling ball to roll slowly down a polished wood lane, a crowd of men gathered behind Vinton Lewis.

This was late in a two-hour league session Tuesday afternoon for men ages 55-and-over, and most of them had finished their alloted three strings. Finally, as the softball-sized black ball reached the white candlepins and toppled seven of them, a cheer went up. It rose again as one of the three remaining pins wobbled, then fell.

Now only two pins remained upright, but they were as unsteady as a baby taking hesitant first steps.

As if in slow motion, one keeled over. Then, with a soft thud, the last holdout dropped.

Lewis had rolled a strike, one that seemed to take longer to complete than the FairPoint walkout.

“See that,” said Clayton Farrar amid the uproar. “Everybody cheers for him, regardless of whether you’re bowling against him or with him.”


At 84, Farrar is closest in age to Lewis of the nearly three dozen bowlers in the Big 20 Bowling Center’s men’s senior league, but he still trails Lewis by a gap as large as kindergarten to grad school.

Lewis turned 100 last summer.

“He’s something else,” said Farrar, a fellow South Portland resident.

After the strike, one of Lewis’s teammates, 69-year-old Terry Parent of Scarborough, raised both hands for a pair of high fives from the grinning centenarian.

“He more than holds his own,” Parent said. “Some days he beats one of us.”

Rick Jones, co-owner of the Big 20 Bowling Center, said Lewis is the most senior bowler in any of the center’s leagues. A women’s league has three nonagenarians, he said, with the oldest being 94.


Even more impressive, Lewis hasn’t missed his Tuesday afternoon time slot in six years. That’s 34 weekly sessions from September to May.

“That’s more than anybody else,” said Parent. “Somebody here is always sick or goes away. Vinnie is here, and he’s here early and he’s ready to go.”

Lewis drives himself to the lanes in a white 1999 Lincoln Town Car that has 63,000 miles on it. Last summer, he renewed his license for four more years.

He’s been bowling with these same men for more than a dozen years. He started out in a carpool from South Portland.

“We had a whole bunch that lived right around me,” he said. “We used to come five of us at once. Now we’re down to one.”



Lewis took up bowling half a century ago with his wife, Marion, at the Mill Creek lanes, where a CVS pharmacy now stands. Marion died 13 years ago. One of their two sons died earlier this month in Maryland. Another son lives in South Carolina.

Lewis, known by most everyone as Vint or Vinnie, has outlived four younger siblings. He has five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and a 3-year-old great-great-granddaughter who lives in Texas.

Each morning, he does the crossword puzzle and Cryptoquip published in the Press Herald. He does his own cooking and, each Friday, his grocery shopping.

“I don’t mow my lawn anymore,” he said. “My great-grandson does that. I gave it up two years ago.”

A granddaughter, Annie Beagan, lives in Cumberland and looks in on him.

“He’s allowed to paint, but not to go higher than the 6-foot ladder,” she said. “He paints the side of his house each year. He painted the garage this summer.”


Lewis said the secret to his longevity involves regular rest. He plans on at least eight hours of sleep each night.

“Every year I take my flu shot,” he said. “I go to the doctor four times a year. I have skin problems, but that’s contained.”

Candlepin differs from tenpin bowling in that the ball is much smaller (2 pounds, 6 ounces) and has no finger holes. The pins are taller and more slender, and each bowler receives up to three balls per frame, or box.

Knocking over all 10 pins on the first throw results in a strike. Do it on the second and earn a spare. Do it on the third and it’s called a 10-box and no bonus pins are awarded, unlike a strike (which adds the results of the next two balls) or spare (results of the next ball).


Candlepin also allows fallen pins to remain in the pin box and be used by succeeding balls to knock over other pins.


“Deadwood’s a big part of this game,” Lewis said. “It’s more competitive than the big balls. You get (lower) scores, but if you get less than 120 with the big balls, why, you’re not doing anything. Here, if you bowl 100, you’re a good bowler.”

The high game for Lewis this season is 97. He beat his age last year with a 114 and said he has bowled as high as 124.

As a young man, Lewis puffed cigars and the occasional pipe and played golf on Sunday mornings. At least, he did until he got married in 1937, when he joined Marion at First Congregational Church every Sunday on Meetinghouse Hill, a practice he continues to this day.

“I haven’t smoked in 70 years,” he said. “I never smoked cigarettes.”

Although not a teetotaler, he rarely touches alcohol.

“Over the last 20 years I don’t think I’ve had three or four hard drinks,” he said. “Maybe 15 years.”


He still lives in the red house on Sawyer Road that he and Marion purchased in 1939. After graduating from Lewiston High in 1933, Lewis enrolled in Northeastern Business School in Portland and remained for not quite two years before quitting to accept an accounting job with the Portland Fish Company.

“It was the height of the depression,” he said. “So I needed to work.”

Not only did he keep the books, he also learned to be an engineer.

“They had six fishing boats,” he said. “I used to keep them in shape and running, plus my job in the office. In those days, there were no hours. When I went to work they said, ‘You be here at 7 and you stay ’til we’re done.’ Then you got a week’s pay.”


Although he was drafted near the end of World War II, Lewis never spent time in the military, working instead at a power plant in South Portland where Liberty ships were built. He eventually spent 40 years as a marine contractor, building wharves and docks and driving pilings from Portland to South Harpswell.


He operated his own tow boat and his own crane barge powered by steam.

“Everything was done by steam,” he said. “We made our own electricity and our own pump. The pile-driving hammer was run by steam. The hoisting machinery was all steam.”

He stopped bowling for a time after the lanes in Mill Creek closed and the only other option involved late-night travel back from Westbrook. Then, a little more than a dozen years ago, he started coming to Scarborough.

“There are 32 nice guys bowling here,” he said during a break in action. “We used to have a hundred, but they weren’t all nice guys.”

He laughed.

“We always had half a dozen troublemakers out of a hundred,” he said, “but no more.”


White hair combed straight back, Lewis wore a gray fleece vest over a plaid flannel shirt with black pants and tan shoes.

His dangling arms swung once, sometimes twice, before he lifted the ball under his chin, took three steps forward – right, left, right – as he pulled back his left arm and swung it forward, releasing the ball at knee level. It clunked on the wooden lane and methodically made its way toward the narrow white pins.

“He’s a real gentleman,” said Pat Malloy, 65, of Cumberland Center. “He really is. No matter what he does, if he throws a 50 string or throws a 100 string, you won’t know the difference. He’ll smile and (shrug).”

Malloy raised his arms and shoulders to demonstrate.

“I guess if you get to be 100,” he said, “what could bother you? You’ve seen it all.”



Indeed, Lewis said the biggest changes during his lifetime have to do with communication.

“We had the crank telephone in those days and you had a newspaper, and that was it,” he said. “The radio came in after that, and television, and then all this digital stuff, which I don’t have any of.”

He does own a personal computer, an eMachine, that he uses to keep track of digital photographs and Christmas lists. It plays games. It hasn’t given him any trouble.

“I’m not on the Internet at all,” he said. “I don’t want to be.”

Candlepin bowling arrived only 35 years before Lewis, in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has taken root in New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Nobody has come close to rolling a perfect game of 300.

It’s not a flashy game and it doesn’t require a lot of strength. Still, Lewis finds enough in it, and in the camaraderie of fellow bowlers, that he returns every Tuesday afternoon, tying the laces of his tan bowling shoes and unzipping the worn tartan case held together with brown duct tape to reveal four black candlepin balls marbled with green.

This is how he rolls.

“He’s an inspiration,” said Beagan, his granddaughter, “and the greatest role model I have on how to be a good, kind-hearted person.”


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