By BOB SHRALUKA
The place has been quietly sitting there for several years now, like an abandoned, lost, pathetic soul with no friends. It had a lot of friends at one time, and still had many who wanted to remain so. But who wanted to take on a project of that magnitude?
And then, almost out of the proverbial blue, Josh Krueckeberg and Dan Evans stepped forward, swung a deal to buy Decatur's long-vacated bowling alley and, after clearing up some major problems — a tax lien, for example — said, "Let's go."
Equally important, they found their Pied Piper, the one to lead everyone back to the promised land of bowling in Decatur: Mike Miller. You talk to the guy for a while and you begin to get the feeling that if that's what it took to get someone with his enthusiasm in charge, then maybe the three-year shutdown was worth it.
"This is a passion of mine," Miller said with the sort of emphasis that lets you clearly know he's not just spouting a platitude or two. "When we get this thing going, it won't seem like a job."
The new owners hired Miller, a longtime bowler, to get the place back in shape and, as soon as possible, get reopened. The Decatur native has been full-bore ever since.
"It's going along real well," Miller said this week. "They're gonna start on the roof next week; they're bringing in three crews so they should be done in a little over a week. We'll replace the entire roof.
"We're about 99 percent done with the construction; we're pretty much down to cleaning. We've got a lot done; it's all in the coordination."
They've even brought back the original name, Villa Lanes, as well as Molly's, the restaurant-bar.
Surprisingly, for as long as the place was abandoned, the lanes were not in bad shape. "We had some work done on the approaches of 1 and 16, and had to replace some boards in another," Miller said. "But that's all done and they've all been certified. We figure they should be good for another 15 years or so."
It was just a few weeks ago that word got out that maybe "the bowling alley" would reopen, and just two weeks ago a formal announcement was made in this newspaper. So no one could expect to fill up a bunch of leagues for the fast-approaching start of the season. But Miller is encouraged by the progress.
"The leagues are coming along," he said. "We're not going to fill them up, no, but that way we can offer more open bowling. And I think we'll get a lot more (league bowlers) next year."
Miller is really excited about plans for youth bowling. In the last year or so that Villa Lanes was open, more than 120 students took part. Some of them moved to Haworth Lanes in Berne when Villa Lanes was closed.
"I think our youth league is really gonna take off," explained an enthused Miller. "We got a lot of contact back from parents; they are glad we're coming back here."
Miller said a youth bowling association is planned, with leagues here and at Haworth, where most of the local young bowlers have been going since Villa Lanes was closed. "Dave (Haworth) and I are working together on it (a youth association) and it looks really good; we're talking about some friendly competition, some other things."
Lest someone sees a big rivalry between the two bowling establishments, be advised that Miller bowls in a league at Haworth. And, he adds, "Dave and I have been friends for over 30 years."
Miller — who, ironically, was born in 1950, the same year Dick and Gwen Mies opened Villa Lanes — has a wealth of ideas for the "new" establishment. "We want it to be an entertainment center. We want to make it more than just a bowling alley," he exclaimed. A banquet room, Wifi, live music, a game room ... those are just some of the ideas bouncing around.
The once-thriving business has been closed for over three years, "but we're pluggin' away," Miller chuckled.
Plugging? This Pied Piper is moving more like the speed of light!