Local man pins business career on passion for sport
Passion and paychecks merged for Blairsville's Ron Dalesandro a long time ago.
Bowling had long been among his favorite leisure activities. Shortly after returning from a stint in 1960 pitching for the Chicago Cubs' Single-A Appalachian League affiliate, he made it his occupation.
“I started setting pins when I was 10 years old in Blairsville,” the 1994 Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame inductee said.
When he married his wife, Carole, in 1964, Dalesandro was managing the Indiana Elks Club bowling center. He later managed the now-defunct Ridge Lanes on Route 119 near Indiana before becoming the first manager of Mohawk Lanes, located west of town in White Township.
Dalesandro recalled that Mohawk Lanes got its start in 1973 when the owners of Indiana Steel and Fabricating reopened a portion of a former bowling alley and outfitted the lanes with automated equipment from AMF Corporation, a major manufacturer in the industry. When his application to oversee the revitalized alley was accepted, Dalesandro said, “They told me ‘Run it like it's yours, we know nothing about the bowling business.' So I've been running it like it's mine ever since.”
It wasn't long until Mohawk Lanes really was his. The Dalesandros were part of a group that purchased the bowling alley in 1986, and the couple bought out the other owners in 2006.
“My wife and I own the place,” Ron Dalesandro said. “She's the secretary and treasurer, and I'm president. I keep the lanes going while she keeps the bookwork going.” One of the couple's daughters, Michele Housholder of Coral, also helps to manage the business.
Dalesandro said he's usually at the bowling center seven days a week and does much of the mechanical upkeep on the pin-sets and ball-returns. “I've been a mechanic on these things for about 50 years,” including a decade at Ridge Lanes, he said.
In 2008, the Dalesandros renovated the Mohawk Lanes facility, installing a synthetic bowling surface and expanding from 16 to 24 lanes to offer more flexibility during busy league hours.
Dalesandro estimated about two dozen leagues make use of the bowling alley. “We do a lot with the AARP, they're here Mondays and Wednesday afternoons,” he said. “We have one that calls themselves the Over-The-Hill Gang and that bowls here Friday nights, all AARP people. Good people, they love to bowl. Some of them are pushing 90, 91, 92 years old and they're still out there. In fact, we had a 91-year-old lady a couple weeks ago on Wednesday afternoon bowl 235. Anybody would love to have a 235, and here she's 91. It's fantastic.”
Mohawk Lanes also reserves lane time for charitable groups in the community. Each Friday, it welcomes a group of 15 to 20 adults with developmental and physical disabilities from Lifesteps, a nonprofit agency that assists clients ranging from children to seniors.
In addition to providing the group a discount, the Mohawk Lanes proprietors are “always very accommodating,” said Scott Snyder, Lifesteps' director of community relations. “You can tell they really care. They know each one of our folks by name; they know their shoe size.”
“This is our way of giving back to Indiana County to help out,” Dalesandro said. “We just charge them basically what it costs to turn the machine on. It gets them out and they enjoy it. It's good. It helps both of us.”
Dalesandro said the Indiana bowling center also offers a day of bowling for Special Olympians from local schools. “They have a pledge that they say and, honest to God, it brings tears to my eyes,” he said. “Every time I hear one of the young people saying it, it's just amazing. They enjoy coming out bowling. They're in wheelchairs or they have other disabilities, but it's just fantastic for the kids. Each school makes signs up and we put them all over the bowling alley. We keep them up for four, five, six months so when they come back they see their signs.”
The center works with Big Hearts, Little Hands, the YMCA of Indiana County's mentoring program, to host the annual Bowl For Kids event.
“For the past 25 years, the annual Bowl For Kids event has taken place at Mohawk Lanes, raising nearly $250,000 for at-risk youth and teens in the county,” Big Hearts, Little Hands director Steve Frye said. The Y-affiliated program matches at-risk youth, or “Littles,” with adult mentors, or “Bigs.” It is at its highest participant level ever, with more than 90 Littles enrolled.
Frye said funds raised through the event allow Littles and their families to participate in various programs offered at the YMCA.
Mohawk Lanes is starting its 40th year of operation, but its original 1973 grand opening still sticks out in Dalesandro's memory.
“One of my favorite all-time bowlers was Dick Weber,” he said. “Since we were an AMF equipment center, AMF Corporation said, ‘Who do you want for your grand opening?' and I said Dick Weber. I had a chance to spend a weekend with him. I'll never forget that.”
The late Weber, a Missouri resident, was a three-time national Bowler of the Year and was considered one of the sport's greatest ambassadors.
Another memorable moment for Dalesandro came this past summer when he was named the 2012 Bowling Proprietors Association of Pennsylvania Proprietor of the Year. He received a ring commemorating the honor at the International Bowl Expo and Trade Show in Reno, Nev.
“One day I got a call out of the blue saying I was selected, which is a great honor,” said Dalesandro, a member of the PABPA board of directors. “We've got somewhere between 1,100 and 1,300 bowling centers in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is either first, second or third in the country. Every so often it flips between California, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Certain bowling centers would close in each one of those states and they'd flip-flop all the time, but Pennsylvania is usually in the top three.”
With so much competition for the honor, it seems community involvement, longevity and the recent renovations helped set Mohawk Lanes apart. Dalesandro's passion for the business certainly didn't hurt his chances.
“It's a business I really enjoy,” he said. “I enjoy the people.... You get a chance to watch the kids grow up. The kids we teach in our junior program, they learn how to bowl the proper way and they get better.”
“Two of the things I always wanted to do was play professional baseball and own my own bowling center, and I did both,” Dalesandro reflected. “I look back, and it all turned out for the best. I've been married for 48 years, I've got four wonderful kids, I own my own bowling center. Life is good.”
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.