Giving the gift of bowling: an update

Back in May I wrote about the Jefferson Barracks campus of the VA Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. If you’ll recall, the hospital is home to a beautiful six-lane bowling facility with Brunswick gold crown furnishings, used exclusively by veterans for physical rehabilitation.


When I wrote the original post, the rehab building was one of 14 structures slated for demolition as part of a $360 million upgrade project at the hospital. The rehabilitation facilities — including a weight room, exercise bikes and therapy pool in addition to bowling — help vets who are recovering from various conditions, including spinal cord injuries and strokes. VA volunteers help wheelchair users and others who need assistance in aiming and propelling balls down the lanes, using ball ramps and other aids.

The good news was that the VA was saving room for four bowling lanes in the new rehab facility. The not-as-good news was that there was no funding available for construction nor equipment. A projected $500,000 would have to be found, somewhere, to build and equip the bowling center.

When I wrote the post, a group calling itself “Bowling for Veterans Health” had been trying to raise the money on its own.

(You can read my original story here. Past news coverage on the campaign can be found here, here and here.)

A couple of questions came up in response to my story: Do four lanes really cost a half-million dollars? The Brunswick Jet Back pinsetters and masking units seemed to be in such great shape — couldn’t they be moved and reused in the new facility, saving further dollars?


It’s been nearly a year since I visited, and I asked Jim Donahoe — one of the leaders of the fundraising effort — for an update on the campaign. I asked how much more money is needed, as well as the best current way for people to donate. Here are excerpts from Jim’s very comprehensive e-mail response:

“Kevin, so good to hear from you. Since your visit we have made substantial progress:

 • Congress has appropriated the money to build the new Veterans Rehabilitation Building (VRB) where the new bowling alley will be located. I expect construction to start in early 2016. Expected time for the construction is one and one-half years. On this schedule, the VRB should be completed by the end of 2017. When the VA accepts the building, then we can proceed with the constructing and equipping the new bowling alley. Since the bowling alley is being built with “donated” funds, we cannot mix those with “appropriated funds” (tax dollars) during the construction phase of the building itself. Ours has to be a separate project.

 • The VRB will have all of the facilities necessary for the health maintenance and rehabilitation of Veteran patients. These facilities include: cardio – aerobic workout equipment, weight training, half court gymnasium, therapy pool, weight reduction programs, and of course, our new 4-lane bowling alley. These facilities will serve/treat patients who suffer from spinal cord injuries, stroke, mass amputation(s), mental health issues, and for others who want to maintain an active lifestyle as part of their own health maintenance program.

• We had an anonymous donation of $190K to pay for the construction of the bowling alley (e.g. electrical, heating / air conditioning, decor, etc.). We believe this enough to cover the “non-equipment” cost, but will not know for sure until the VA accepts bids for the project and we get the final estimates.

 Now we are raising the money to pay for the equipment.

• By reusing the current pinsetters we were able to save a considerable sum of money. Although the current Brunswick pinsetters are old (purchased in the 1969 to 1973 time frame), they have been well-maintained. And, several ‘experts’ from the industry have told us, “they were built like a tank.” For the usage we anticipate, we believe these pinsetters will last us for several more decades.

• In 2014, the Danville, Ill., VA Medical Center totally renovated their 4-lane bowling alley. It is a beautiful, functional facility. We are using that project as a model for ours. Based on the cost of the Danville VA bowling alley, I expect the cost to fully equip our project and move the current pinsetters will be about $180,000. Thus far we have raised about $100,000 towards this goal.

Thus, we have to raise another $80,000 by the end of 2017 to complete the project.

• We have had help from several different organizations. For example, the Missouri Bowling Proprietors Association has asked each of its 108 bowling centers to help in raising money for this project. Through 2016 and 2017, they will hold events, collect the donations, and next year, present us with a final check. The BVL has also been most generous in hosting events that will also help us complete this project. In fact, they recently presented us with a check for $20,000.

As you can see, we have made some real progress, but still need some help to get us across the finish line. There are two ways to donate:

1. Checks can be made out to “Heroes Care (VA Bowling)” and mailed to:

Voluntary Service
VA Medical Center
#1 Jefferson Barracks Road
St Louis, MO 63125

2. Donations can be made directly and securely on line at: on DONATE, then proceed to Donate; then enter BOWLING in the comments section).

Heroes Care is an IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Therefore, donations are tax deductible.

Thank you so much for your support. Should anyone want further information, they are free to contact me at any time.”

(Instead of posting Jim’s contact information publicly, I am happy to help any interested parties get in touch with him for more information on the campaign. Thank you to all my followers for your support of this important project.)

Story and photographs © 2015, 2016 by Kevin Hong.