NICEVILLE – When he first picked up a bowling ball in his hometown of Dixon, Ill., Bob Fleskes never thought that his love and skill in the game would soon be put to the service of his countries across Europe.
But that’s exactly what happened in 1956 after Fleskes, who now lived a quiet life on the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay, reported to the post at Royal Air Force Station Sculthorpe in southeastern England. ‘England as part of the 3rd Air Force.
Faced with a peacetime peace project, Fleskes opted instead to enlist in the Air Force, explaining with a wry smile that he had decided, “I’m not going to serve in the military. ”
By the time of Fleskes’ enlistment, the new TV delights were taking hold in England in earnest, emptying cinemas across the countryside as people chose to stay home for entertainment.
In turn, cinema owners looking for a way to recoup lost income came up with the idea of turning their cinemas into bowling alleys, despite the fact that the game was little known in England at the time.
And that’s where Fleskes, at the time already known as an excellent pitcher in Air Force circles, stepped in and tried to popularize the sport.
Here’s how a period newspaper article, dated from the London suburb of South Ruislip, described an example of Fleskes assisting in international tenpin diplomacy:
“… (B) owling is being introduced to England, and a pair of high-flying 3D AF keglers will be on TV to show Brits how it’s done,” the report opens, kept in a photo album by the girl from Fleskes, Laurie.
“Stanley Kasavage and Robert Fleskes, a bowlers duo from Sculthorpe, will meet here on Sunday in an exhibition match which will be televised for British viewers …”, the newspaper added. According to the newspaper article, these viewers were also treated during the program to “a brief history of indoor sport which is played by 23 million Americans but practically unknown in Britain”.
Reflecting on those days in a recent interview at his Niceville home – his daughter Laurie, affectionately known as “the family historian,” by his side – Fleskes was a bit confused as to why he fell apart. interested in bowling after his father. and an acquaintance introduced him to the game during his high school years.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I enjoyed it (and)… I was getting pretty good at it.”
“Fairly good” is, however, a serious understatement for Fleskes’ prowess. After the TV broadcast he headed to the UK Championships, where he finished second in a field of 256.
“He averaged 200 (a perfect bowling score is 300) for 18 games, and only lost the championship by 14 pins,” a newspaper article noted, adding that Fleskes then went on to a championship. bowling competition and finished fifth before traveling to Sweden to compete in bowling shows.
During this time, he also finished second in an Air Force bowling tournament.
Fleskes’ service in the Air Force began at Hurlburt Field, where he worked on the bombardment and navigation systems for the B-66 Destroyer light bomber. Besides England, his service sent him to France and Germany.
His bowling skills, however, would set the course for most of his four-year career in the Air Force, as he was posted to “special services” to work with America’s European allies.
“All I did was go bowling after that,” Fleskes said.
His bowling accomplishments also eventually caught the attention of Brunswick Corp., whose activities at the time included manufacturing bowling equipment and operating bowling centers.
Brunswick approached Fleskes to turn pro, but the rigors of travel during his tenure as Air Force bowling ambassador persuaded him not to take the opportunity.
“I’m tired of living in a suitcase,” he said.
But Fleskes never got tired of bowling.
“I really put myself in it when I got out of the service,” he said.
After the Air Force, Fleskes went to work in the Lucky Strike bowling alley at Fort Walton Beach, located where Fort Walton Landing is today. He ran the bowling alley for six years because it drew crowds of residents – and in one promotional case, a bowling chimpanzee.
“Yeah,” Fleskes replied, smiling, when asked if the chimpanzee was any good.
After Lucky Strike, Fleskes bought a bowling alley in Greenville, Mississippi, and moved his family there in 1967. He operated the business until selling it in 1973, and he and his family returned to Fort Walton Beach.
This return opened a new chapter for Fleskes and his family, and made a name for them in the community.
Fleskese’s return to the city came after purchasing the iconic Goofy Golf miniature golf course on Eglin Parkway from his stepfather, James W. Hayes, who designed and built the course with his son, Raymond, in 1958. .
Fleskes operated Goofy Golf, an old-fashioned course filled with fancy characters to hit balls through and around, for 43 years before selling it.
Unlike bowling, playing mini-golf did not interest Fleskes much, although he maintained the course – laying rugs, mowing the lawn, fixing his figures – with scrupulous attention.
But he said that during his time at Goofy Golf, “I only played about 15 rounds.”
Which worked well, as it meant Fleskes could continue to pursue his passion for bowling.
He’s played regularly in league, local and state tournaments – and at times, he confessed, collected $ 50 pots on friendly bets.
Fleskes also achieved some local recognition at tenpin in 1988, when he was inducted into the Okaloosa County Bowling Association Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, surgery and doctor’s orders now keep Fleskes away from the bowling alley, and he admits to having missed his hobby.
“I would like to continue,” he said. “It was very fun.”