Donnie Tant plans finally to retire from league bowling when A Senior Family's season ends next week at Holiday Bowl Brainerd. But she's been doing it for 65 years, and she turned 98 on Sunday.
It can't go on forever, after all. It just seemed that way, and the 4-foot-10 Rossville resident is still spry, physically and mentally. She doesn't look close to her age.
"I don't know what I'll do when they start again in the fall. Probably cry," she said Wednesday before a league reception for her.
She's been a little frustrated that she's had to miss more bowling days than usual this season, though with relatively minor issues. And her husband of 71 years, Chuck, has bad knees and hasn't been able to bowl the past couple of years. He's 92.
Their oldest son, Charles, is 70 and bowls in the same league. Their other two children -- Connie, 69, and Tom, 60 -- also were present for Wednesday's gathering at the bowling center. They are former bowlers.
Donnie grew up in Seattle, the daughter of English-born parents. Her father was killed in World War I, but her mother lived to be 89 and even then did not die from an illness. She was struck by a car after getting off a bus following a work day.
Asked if "good genes" were the explanation for her own youthful longevity, Donnie laughed and said, "That's what I hear."
Asked what kind of average she holds now, she laughed again and said, "Not much. It's like 114. But I've got a good handicap."
The highest average she remembers for any season is 146, and A Senior Family league secretary Pat Almany lauded the consistency of Donnie's form. The highest praise from Almany and others, though, centered on the consistency of her personality.
"She's a great inspiration to us all," league president Betty Armstrong said. "She's here every week, and she's always happy and always smiling. We all love her to death."
Mickey West said as part of his pre-meal devotional that "she's a fantastic lady and we're blessed. She's 98 years old and she lets us kids bowl with her."
The Tants moved to the Chattanooga area from Memphis in 1996. A Senior Family has had a series of league names over the years, but Donnie and Chuck joined it in Fort Oglethorpe and shifted with the league to East Ridge when Fort Lanes closed -- and then to Brainerd when the closing of Tri-State Lanes forced another move.
But moving didn't bother them. Donnie took up bowling in 1949 while Chuck, a Navy man, was stationed in Honolulu, and she continued in the sport everywhere they went.
"We were all over the place," their oldest son said.
"Bowling's about all I ever did" in the way of a hobby, she said, but she pointed out that she was "always sports-minded." She played basketball and volleyball and "everything they had" in high school.
She bowled in two leagues a week until just a few years ago.
"Bowling's the thing she looks forward to more than anything," Charles Tant said.
Now she's looking ahead to life without regular bowling, but those who know her well believe she'll still find some way to stay active.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.