Bowling pioneer Dick 'Ol' Steff' Stoeffler dies By Joe Lyou



    2007BowlExpoJoeLyou.jpgA phone call I've been dreading for weeks arrived early Sunday morning, Jan. 14. The caller was Susie Stoeffler informing me that her beloved husband, Dick Stoeffler, had died the night before. He was 80.

    Dick, or Ol' Steff as his friends called him, lost his long battle with cancer, a battle that lasted for at least three years. He was a fighter—anyone else would have given up long before he did.

    Ol' Steff was a true bowling pioneer in Southern California. He was also one of the Southland's top bowlers during the late 1950s and through the early '70s.

    For 21 years, Stoeffler was a bowling center owner-operator, the last 15 years at Kona Lanes in Costa Mesa, where he had the 40-lane center humming around the clock. It was the busiest place in Orange County, averaging more than 80 lines per alley bed. (Readers, that's phenomenal.)

    Not many people knew it, but Ol' Steff was a PBA member for 12 years. He competed in only three tournaments annually because business priorities limited his PBA participation.

    Not only was Stoeffler a fine bowler—he once bowled an 825 series that featured California's first back-to-back perfect games (300-300-225)—but he was also a bowling columnist for 44 years.

    A member of the Bowling Writers Assn. of America, Ol' Steff penned a weekly "Mountain Time" opinion column that ran for almost 20 years in the California Bowling News—and also in Frenchy Letourneau's Las Vegas "TenPin Alley". Stoeffler's column, however, first appeared in the "Pacific Bowler" in the '60s and continued until he retired in 1977.

    The Stoefflers—Dick and Susie—then moved to Big Bear City, where Ol' Steff started a successful construction firm. He retired (again) and in March 1997 Dick and Susie made their home in Las Vegas. "I was getting too dang old to be shoveling snow in the wintertime," he would quip.

    During his long bowling career, Stoeffler garnered many awards. Here are some of them, along with his other accomplishments…

    • Originated the West Coast Eliminations in 1959 as a weekly men's summer scratch event. The tournament format was highly imitated through the years.
    • Averaged 212 in 1961, highest for the entire West Coast. His career high average was 221—and that was in the days when 200-average bowlers were scarce.
    • In a 1964 nationally televised PBA stepladder finals, Stoeffler placed third, his best-ever PBA finish.
    • Named to the Orange County Hall of Fame in 1966.
    • On Jan. 4, 1968, when he rolled his 825 series, he became the sixth bowler in ABC history to record as many as 25 strikes in a row.
    • The famed Helms Athletic Foundation named Stoeffler the Athlete of the Month for January, 1968. He was rightly proud of the silver cup presented to him by Helms before a host of big-name athletes.
    • Elected Executive of the Year in 1975 by the SoCal Bowling Writers Assn.
    • Named to the SoCal Hall of Fame in 1981.
    • In a surprise presentation in 2001 at Bowl Expo in Las Vegas, Ol' Steff was selected as the recipient of the prestigious National Flowers for the Living Award by the Bowling Writers Assn. of America.

    In addition to all these accolades, Stoeffler was a member of the Bowling Proprietors' Assn. of SoCal board of directors for 20 years. He was also vice president of H&S Productions, which produced "TV Bowling Tournament" for 6-1/2 years, or 344 live telecasts, shown on Channel 5 in Los Angeles.

    These live telecasts, with Stoeffler doing the announcing and featuring the finest local star bowlers, were shown on Saturday afternoons. The show dominated TV ratings for its time slot.

    I knew Dick Stoeffler for almost 40 years. We became close friends when I was the owner and publisher of the "Pacific Bowler".

    Ol' Steff took the entire back page each week so he could run his tournament and special events ads, along with his highly controversial column. He loved to rock the boat and, in those days, was constantly badgering the ABC and Bill Taylor (Stoeffler would call him "Bull Traylor" in his columns).

    After many of Taylor's theories on "Super Soft Bowling Conditions" proved to be correct, he and Ol' Steff became longtime friends.

    Stoeffler's columns were so popular that bowlers could hardly wait until Friday of each week to read his fearless, often incendiary, statements. I would insert a disclaimer at the end of his column, but Ol' Steff just laughed it off.

    In recent years, whenever I was in Las Vegas—and that was often—I'd always have dinner out with Dick and Susie. We had a lot of good times together as he had a great sense of humor.

    At Stoeffler's request, there was no funeral service. In addition to his wife Susie, he is survived by three sons, a daughter, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

    I miss him already.