It’s just not going to be the same without Pete and his stories
I don’t recall the exact date that I first met Pete Willadsen but I vividly recall the conversation I had with Sports Editor Dorothy Huber later that day.Me: Hi Dorothy, I met some guy named Pete Willadsen today.Dorothy: Oh, how did that go?Me: I’m about 2 1/2 hours behind, but I don’t care. That was definitely worth it.We didn’t always talk for two-plus hours, but honestly, I loved to see Pete amble into the office when no one else was in the newsroom.“Well Bob, what’s the big news of the day?”Before I could answer, he would sit down in an empty chair, make himself at home and we’d chat a good chunk of the morning or afternoon away.As many of you know, Pete Willadsen Jr. died last Wednesday. He was 85, and New Hampton and its bowling scene will never quite be the same.For 60 years, Willadsen was New Hampton’s version of “Mr. Bowling.” He served as the secretary and treasurer of the Wapsie League and the New Hampton Men’s Bowling Association from 1955 to 2015.When he first took the jobs, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House, and through the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama administrations, he never left.That’s staying power.Over the years, I learned a lot about Pete, who lived a life that was varied and interesting.He was a veteran of the U.S. Army, he sold cars, he played both the French horn and percussion in a variety of bands, he was a fireman and he loved the sport of bowling.And boy oh boy, he could tell a good story.In so many ways, Pete Willadsen reminded me of my own father.They came from the same generation; my dad would have turned 84 earlier this year so they were dang near the same age.Like Pete, my dad loved bowling, but the similarities went way beyond the fact that both men spent countless hours in bowling alleys.My dad was never a fireman like Pete was for 50 years, 24 of which he served his beloved New Hampton Fire Department as its chief, yet both men — Dad’s passion was the American Legion — understood the value of giving back to the community.Yet, the common bond between Pete Willadsen and Melroy Fenske was both men’s ability to tell a good story.A few years ago, before Pete finally had to give up his “bowling jobs,” Pete walked into the office and I showed him a picture of my father that appeared on the cover of Bowling Digest years ago.“Whoa, now that’s a keeper,” he said. “Tell me about it, would you?”So I told him the story of how Dad had 23 postings in his first 11 years in the Air Force. If a general in the Far East Command needed a bowler, he got “Swede” Fenske transferred to Japan for a few months.“So he got to see a good chunk of the world,” Pete said.In the early 1960s, Dad was stationed in England, and a team of pros, including Weber, took on Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines teams, and my father, bowling anchor on the Air Force team, struck out in the 10th of his final game to give his team the tourney title.“Flyboys beat the pros,” the main headline on the magazine cover read, and underneath was the subhead, “Swede Fenske strikes out in the 10th to give Air Force title.”Pete looked at the photo for a good, long time, and when he looked up, he had a twinkle in his eye.A few days before Pete had come into the office to drop off the Wapsie League results, I had taken the boys out to Bowlaway Lanes for some open bowling.Pete was there and watched us bowl a few frames, and even gave Josh and Noah a few tips.So anyway, Pete looked up with that glint in his eye and laughed.“Well Bob,” he said as the smile grew bigger, “you may have gotten your storytelling ability from your dad, but obviously, you didn’t get one iota of your dad’s bowling skills.”We both laughed, and when I heard the news last week that Pete had passed away, I thought of that day — and the first time I met Pete, too — immediately.So to his wife, Phyllis, his eight children, 19 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, I extend my deepest sympathies.But today, I hope somewhere above us Pete and Mel have met, because if they have, heaven just got a little more entertaining.