'You'd never know he's 100': Wood Dale man still rolls his age, and he just bought a new ball

  • Little kids often have birthday parties at Wood Dale Bowl, but Larry Vakoc celebrates his 100th birthday on the lanes by bowling his age and then some. His average is 120.

      Little kids often have birthday parties at Wood Dale Bowl, but Larry Vakoc celebrates his 100th birthday on the lanes by bowling his age and then some. His average is 120. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • A legendary horseshoes player before age and arthritis caught up to him, Larry Vakoc found a new outlet in bowling. He celebrates his 100th birthday by bowling at Wood Dale Bowl.

      A legendary horseshoes player before age and arthritis caught up to him, Larry Vakoc found a new outlet in bowling. He celebrates his 100th birthday by bowling at Wood Dale Bowl. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/19/2019 5:07 PM

As unusual as it is for golfers to shoot their age, it's more rare for a 100-year-old bowler to roll his age. But Larry Vakoc does it all the time.

"I'm still bowling at 100 years old, but I don't feel like I'm 100," says Vakoc, who bowls in a senior league every Thursday at Wood Dale Bowl in Wood Dale.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He's bowled in the 160s and 170s, but his average right now is still 120," says Linda Wondrasek, who mans the counter and works as a secretary at Wood Dale Bowl, which recently hosted a 100th birthday party for Vakoc.

"People are wonderful," says Vakoc, who walks without a cane and almost always is smiling. "They congratulate me, and I just love everybody."

"I don't feel 100," says Larry Vakoc, a World War II veteran who celebrates his 100th birthday by bowling at Wood Dale Bowl.
  "I don't feel 100," says Larry Vakoc, a World War II veteran who celebrates his 100th birthday by bowling at Wood Dale Bowl. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Born Aug. 15, 1919, Vakoc grew up on a cattle ranch in Wood Lake, Nebraska, where he rode horses and roped calves. "He was an original cowboy," says his son, Jim Vakoc, 72.

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Larry Vakoc enlisted in the Navy, and served as a machinist aboard the USS Seneca during World War II. The Seneca patrolled the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil, towing target barges and being on the lookout for German submarines. The Seneca had one confrontation with a German submarine, and captured two Germans from a sunken U-boat.

After coming home from the war, Vakoc and his longtime girlfriend, Elayne, were married on Oct. 12, 1943. He worked for Dixie cup before putting his machinist skills to work with Admiral Corp. and Zenith, where he made sheet-metal prototypes of televisions and other appliances. In 1952, he bought an unfinished house in Wood Dale that was just a frame, and installed all the plumbing and electrical, as well as building the walls. The couple raised sons Jim and Keith, now 64, in that house.

After he retired at age 65, Vakoc worked at Jewel-Osco and a local McDonald's restaurant. Elayne died Jan. 3, 2010. Vakoc plays pinochle every Monday, goes out to lunches and dinners with friends, and bowls every Thursday.

During his party at Wood Dale Bowl, Vakoc walks to the line and rolls a perfect ball that curves to the left to pick up a difficult spare.

"We have some people in their 90s, but he's the first one at 100," says Mike Melone, who owns Wood Dale Bowl with his wife, Karen. "You'd never know he's 100."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Vakoc used to be a local legend as a horseshoe player, tossing horseshoes and hoping to land a ringer around a stake in the ground 37 feet away. "Nobody could beat him in horseshoes," remembers Wondrasek.

Known for always being in an upbeat mood, Larry Vakoc of Wood Dale celebrates his 100th birthday at Wood Dale Bowl, with teammates Arlis Faticante, left, of Bensenville and Pauline Risen, right, of Wood Dale.
  Known for always being in an upbeat mood, Larry Vakoc of Wood Dale celebrates his 100th birthday at Wood Dale Bowl, with teammates Arlis Faticante, left, of Bensenville and Pauline Risen, right, of Wood Dale. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

When age and arthritis made horseshoes too difficult, Vakoc focused on bowling, a sport he had enjoyed in his younger days.

"Bowling is a lifelong sport. Our whole world is different, but people always like bowling," Mike Melone says, noting he's heard stories that the cave men bowled.

Not quite old enough to remember those days, Vakoc shows no signs of slowing down.

"It's a lot of fun, and I enjoy it," he says.

How long can he keep bowling?

"Well," Wondrasek says. "He just bought a new 8-pound ball."

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