MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Do you know of unsung hero? Someone who makes a difference in their community and workplace? If so, the Bulletin would like to hear from you. Send that person’s name, milestones or accomplishments, as well as their contact information to Managing Editor James Burns at email@example.com.
The sound of pins crashing against one another, the faint aroma of fryer food and hundreds of pairs of shoes fill Charlotte Black’s work space.
She runs her hands across the smooth counter top next to her computer and cash register, waiting for the next party.
This is her office.
For five decades, she has been the model of consistency at Manteca’s ever-popular, ever-changing bowling alley, greeting customers with an ageless smile.
Black celebrated another milestone anniversary earlier this month – 55 years, long enough to witness the generational growth of the Family City.
Wearing a vest with her hire date stitched into the breast pocket, Black chuckles at that thought.
Through the years, she has watched families have babies, those babies become young bowlers, and some of those young bowlers become employees.
“My fondest memories are all the people I’ve worked with,” Black said on Monday, the start of another full-time work week. “They get to be like family to me. There have been a lot of different people. I’m actually working with fourth generations now; working with some whose parents used to bowl here.”
The 81-year-old with short curly hair and gold-rimmed glasses was hired on March 6, 1960 by Ben Renz, the first manager of the now-defunct Manteca Bowl. She now works for Crystal Wilson, the bowl manager since February 2014.
“She keeps me on my toes. Charlotte’s always keeping me in line,” Wilson quipped. “Charlotte has been through quite a bit, so she helps me out a lot when I want to change things up or try new things. She has a lot of heart. She lives and breathes this place.”
There is no secret to her longevity.
Though she hasn’t rolled a bowling ball in more than 30 years because of a back injury – “I could bowl and go to the chiropractor,” she said with a soft laugh, “but I couldn’t afford that – Black has remained attached to the game.
She is Strike Zone’s gatekeeper, furnishing customers with lanes, shoes, bowling balls, as well as bats and helmets for the batting cage.
“You have to enjoy your work. You have to be willing to change with the different people and management and technology,” she said. “When I first started working they used to have scorekeepers. Now everything is automatic.”
Black never intended to work five decades at a bowling alley, but good health and strong relationships have made punching the clock a labor of love.
The Waco, Georgia native moved to Manteca with her late husband, Bill. She worked for short stints as a waitress and later at Scoops in downtown Manteca, where she made milkshakes and other ice cream dishes.
Eventually, she found her way through the doors at Manteca Bowl, where she ran the kitchen and later the front desk.
Recreational bowling has changed considerably over the years.
For starters, there’s Strike Zone, a 48-lane showpiece complete with restaurant and bar, pro shop and batting cages that opened in 2003, replacing Manteca Bowl along East Yosemite Avenue.
She misses the small-town feel of Manteca Bowl, but understands the house has mirrored growth across the Central Valley.
“It was more like family entertainment,” Black said of the Manteca Bowl era. “This is family entertainment, too, but everyone was like family. We have whole families that bowled. Here, you don’t have that as much.
“Manteca was a lot smaller. Back then, it was more like, you knew everybody. This one is big enough you can’t get to know everybody, because you have so many different people that come in.
“Manteca has changed to so much over the years. It used to be when I got downtown I knew everyone in town. Now, I know very few people.”
Black, who has two children, six grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, will continue to work for Strike Zone for as long as her health and the owners, the Raymus family, will have her.
She has no ambitions of retiring to a sunny beach, where the sounds of waves crashing on the beach set the pace.
No, she prefers pins instead.
“I didn’t think I’d be working this long,” Black said. “The Lord has been good to me and I’ve kept my health, so I’ve been able to continue to work.
“My husband passed away 10 years ago, so this has been my home.”