Among the greatest bowlers in history and a leading ambassador for the sport, Dick Weber became a St. Louisan in 1955 when he joined the legendary Budweiser bowling team. A charter member of the Professional Bowlers Association, Weber won bowler of the year in 1961, 1963, and 1965. With amazing longevity and consistency, he won 4 All-Star titles, 11 All-American Team honors, 26 PBA tournaments and 6 senior titles in an unprecedented five decades, and was inducted into both major bowling halls of fame. Dick Weber's textbook form, consummate skill, and devotion to his sport epitomized class on and off the lanes.
Considered to be one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the sport of bowling.
He was a postal worker in Indianapolis whose fame as a top bowler grew to the point that, in 1955, he was invited to join the Budweisers team in St. Louis. The team, whose other members were Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Tom Hennessey, and Pat Patterson, dropped 3,858 pins in one match, a record which stood for more than three decades.
In 1958, he helped create the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), and won 26 PBA Tour events as well as six Senior Tour events. He was one of bowling's first national stars, when the ABC network broadcast bowling tournaments on Saturday afternoons. He was national Bowler of the Year in 1961, 1963, and 1965.
His son, Pete, is also a top PBA bowler. Both father and son are in the PBA Hall of Fame.
Bowled a game once on board an airplane.
Charter member of the PBA Hall of Fame.
Filled in for Nelson Burton, Jr. on ABC telecasts whenever Burton would qualify for the finals of a tournament.
Won ten of the first 21 PBA tournaments staged.
Byline: Melissa Isaacson
CHICAGO _ For three bucks, you could rent shoes, bowl three games, chip in for fries and a Coke and still come home with change.
It was an age when curling up on a Saturday to watch Dick Weber go up against the competition on the latest PBA tour stop passed for a great afternoon of entertainment.
There might have been an old movie or "Lassie" on one channel, maybe golf on another. It hardly mattered. Whatever the other channels offered didn't stand a chance either. We watched Weber and listened to ABC's Chris Schenkel in staggering numbers, which is why so many of us can still close our eyes and remember.
It is also why a sport mourns and Schenkel wept Monday over the death of one of the bowling's great champions and its most gracious ambassadors.
"Everybody knew Dick Weber," an emotional Schenkel said of Weber, who died Sunday night at his home in Florissant, Mo. "My wife was in love with him. Most people looked at him as somebody you wanted to have a drink with. I'm real shook up. I just can't believe he's dead, I just can't."
His passing was unexpected at age 75 because Weber was active and vibrant and still traveling frequently to promote the sport he loved. On Friday and Saturday, he was in Baton Rouge, La., to participate in opening ceremonies of the 102nd American Bowling Congress Championships. On Sunday, he had breakfast with Steve James, the retired executive director of the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, before flying back to St. Louis.
"Getting on the plane," James said Monday, "as Dick handed over his boarding pass, some guy was walking by and yelled `Are you Dick Weber?' and Dick smiled and waved and said, `Hey, how are you?' like he knew him personally.
"An awful lot of athletes and some bowlers, too, wouldn't have turned around, but that wasn't Dick."
Weber did not have to try to be an Everyman. He was born on Dec. 23, 1929, in Indianapolis and was a postman in Indianapolis before being invited to St. Louis to join the Budweisers, still considered the greatest bowling team ever assembled, with Weber, Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson and Tom Hennessey.
He won 26 PBA Tour events, was Bowler of the Year in '61, '63 and '65, held titles in six decades and was named to his sport's Hall of Fame. In a 1999 Bowling Magazine poll, Weber was named the best bowler of the 20th Century.
"When you say we lost one of the giants of sport, it's not true," said pro bowler Johnny Petraglia, a Weber friend of 45 years. "We lost the giant. There's no one else."
Yet, Weber never cracked a $1 million in career earnings. He lived in the same modest home outside St. Louis with Juanita, his wife of 55 years, since 1957.
He was called the Arnold Palmer of his sport, enjoying a visibility even greater during an era when there were no less than four network bowling shows a week on television in the early 1960s. But it was Weber's warmth and eminent approachability that made him seem like everyone's uncle, buddy or next-door neighbor.
"People would come up to him and want his autograph," James said, "and after he'd hand it back, he'd say `Thank you. Thank you for asking.' "
His legendary Budweiser teammate and friend of nearly 50 years, Carter, called him "the greatest bowler there ever was and by far the best ambassador we've had for the sport." Though he remained upbeat and positive, friends say Weber took bowling's decline in popularity to heart. Although it is a $10 billion a year industry, according to Mark Miller of the U.S. Bowling Congress, with about 70 million age 6 and above estimated to go bowling at least once a year, the game has obviously changed dramatically.
As laser-light shows take over where automatic scoring left off, recreational bowlers far outnumber league players and prices soar as high as $5 per game and $3.50 for shoes in the suburbs. The pro tour is now run by former Microsoft and Nike executives and is, said James, "fighting for survival."
"The old established group, particularly the seniors, feel like they've been knifed in the back," he said.
Weber, however, was still a godlike figure to today's pro bowlers and was tireless in his promotion of the game.
"He was always accessible to everyone, always trying to help with their game. He never said no," said Carter. "Like my wife Paula said, he probably just wore out."
Carter recalled the opening of his bowling center in South Florida in 1991, when Weber happily agreed to appear.
"When I saw him, I said, `What are you doing here?' He had a mini-stroke the week before and he still came," Carter said. "I said, `Dick, you're not bowling' and he said, `It's OK, I feel pretty good,' and shot a 289.
"I ran down, got the ball, put it in my office and said, `Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get any better than this.' They don't make them like Dick Weber anymore."
And they don't draw 9.2 ratings like ABC Sports garnered in 1972 for its bowling telecast.
"Golf was like a little toy," Schenkel said of the bowling telecast's domination, which he steered for 37 years. "Hockey, basketball, we killed 'em all, mostly because of guys like Dick.
"Other than maybe Arnold Palmer, Dick Weber was the fiercest competitor I've ever seen."
On Sunday night, Juanita Weber told friends that the couple went to bed early because Dick had had such a long travel day. It was after midnight that she noticed his breathing was labored and called 911. Paramedics were unable to revive him.
Besides his wife, Weber is survived by a daughter, Paula Darmon, and three sons, Rich, John and Pete. Pete Weber dropped out of the U.S. Open in North Brunswick, N.J., Monday, where he is the defending champion.
Weber said attending so many funeral services of fends over the years convinced him that was not what he wanted. His body will be cremated and there will be no memorial service.
"Don Carter and Earl Anthony may have had bigger names in their own eras, but Dick transcended all of them," said Jim Dressel, editor of Chicago-based Bowlers Journal for 30 years. "It's a real loss for bowling, a very sad day. Dick Weber was a beautiful human being."
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