It was your typical family vacation. Three kids and the parents loaded up in the family station wagon. But in the 1960s and '70s, the Orf Family made road trips every weekend as the father, professional bowler Ray Orf, traveled to regional Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tournaments.
“We spent many weekends traveling to the tournaments,” said Orf’s son, Rich, who shares his father's passion for bowling. “I loved it once we got to the bowling alleys, but the long drives weren’t so fun. I don’t know how parents did it back then. These days kids have DVDs and iPods. We were just all there in the car on those trips.”
Ray Orf now owns and runs on Gravois Road, with his son. Founded in 1976, the Orf family is now celebrating 35 years with the business, which sells and drills bowling balls, as well as offering services such as plugging and resurfacing. The shop also engraves and sells plaques and trophies for a variety of sports and award occasions.
Ray Orf bowled on the PBA Tour—“the big tour” as Rich Orf calls it—in the 1960s. He was an accomplished pro, but once he married his wife Sandy and had children, he opted for a more stable life in St. Louis, serving as the general manager at the Western Bowl bowling alley in the City of St. Louis for 15 years. He continued bowling in tournaments around the Midwest, taking his family with him, but opted out of the life of a full-time professional bowler.
“I never regretted what I did,” Ray Orf said. “I got three great kids and had a nice life.”
Though he chose not to pursue a full-time pro bowling career, his skill in the sport has always been impressive. Orf has bowled more than 20 perfect games in his career. In 1972, he bowled an 890 for a three-game series, recording 35 strikes in a row. He has won a national PBA title and has six regional titles. Orf is a honored in the St. Louis Bowling Hall of Fame and Missouri Bowling Hall of Fame.
The next generation of Orf-family bowlers has also been successful. Rich Orf has won four PBA regional titles, has bowled more than 30 perfect 300 games and was elected to the St. Louis Bowling Hall of Fame in 2006. Rich Orf and his brother Steve once won a PBA regional tournament in Detroit.
“I was 23 and he was 19,” said Rich Orf. “There are not many brother combinations who have won PBA tournaments.”
Rich’s son Andrew, 12, bowls an average of 200.
Ray Orf said he and his late wife Sandy Orf were proud of their children. Sandy, who passed away five years ago from colon cancer, was involved in the family bowling business, working at the shop. Her doctor died around the time she turned 50, and according to her son, she “fell through the cracks,” failing to get a colonoscopy that could have caught the cancer early.
“I feel like she’d still be here if she had had a colonoscopy,” said Orf, who, after having received a questionable colonoscopy result, has them done every year and encourages others to do so.
Ray Orf still comes into the shop he has owned for 35 years daily and does the paperwork. Struggles with blood clots in his legs and circulation problems have kept him off the bowling lanes lately, but he looks and acts ready to throw another 300 as soon as he can get back to the alley.
“He enjoys working in the trophy end of the business these days,” said Rich Orf, “but he still has his PBA card. My brother and I do, too.”