By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Brandon Nodland was bowling even before he was born.
That’s because his mom, Carol Nodland, played the game while she was pregnant with him. She also bowled when she was pregnant with her other two sons.
“I think I’ve been in a bowling alley longer than I’ve been alive,” Brandon said.
It seems bowling is in the family’s blood, since Mitch Nodland, Carol’s husband and Brandon’s father, has been playing since he was 10, and then Carol and their three sons now bowl.
Mitch and Carol are the new owners of Eastgate Lanes in Newton, recently purchasing the bowling alley from Pat and Barb Zenner, who are helping the Nodlands with the transition.
“They stop by every once in a while and make sure we’re not flailing around too bad,” Mitch said, adding the Zenners are great at answering questions and just helping out overall.
Mitch and 22-year-old son Brandon work more than full time at Eastgate Lanes, while Carol has kept her full-time, remote-work job as a project manager with a fiber optic company “to make sure my promise that we can survive on a bowling alley is true, but will be at the center with us when she is not working,” Mitch said. Carol likes bowling but loves that her kids and Mitch love the game.
“We’ve been getting here at 9 o’clock in the morning and staying until 10 [p.m.],” Mitch said, except on Fridays and Saturdays when they’re there until 1 a.m.
Alley hours are noon-10 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays, and noon-midnight, Fridays and Saturdays. They have cosmic bowling from 9 p.m.-midnight, Fridays and Saturdays and family cosmic bowling from 1-4 p.m., Saturdays. They’ll also offer birthday party packages and things like that, Mitch said. The Zenners’ son, Todd, will run the pro shop and he also helps the Nodlands since he used to help run the place.
The Nodland couple was born in Oregon, ended up in Phoenix for Mitch’s employment and then moved to Vancouver, Wash., for that same work.
There’s a reason they came to Newton.
“We bought a bowling alley,” Mitch quipped. “We figure we better come here.”
They wanted to get a bowling alley in the Midwest, searching for one to purchase in Kansas or Nebraska. Carol didn’t want to move anywhere she had to shovel a lot of snow, so Minnesota was out.
He worked for a telecom communications company for the past 22 years and thought it was time for a change.
“I have joked my whole life that retirement for me is leaning on the front counter of a bowling alley all day,” Mitch said. “Although this is not quite retirement, I do hope that someday I will get to lean on the front desk of Eastgate Lanes and tell Brandon he is doing it wrong. That is a dream retirement for me.”
This is a first for him.
“Never owned a bowling alley, but I’ve been in them for 38 years,” Mitch said, adding he usually bowls two to three nights a week and tournaments on weekends.
Carol and Mitch were high school sweethearts and then broke up for two years because of “high school stuff,” Mitch said. They got back together after high school and have been together ever since.
Mitch was friends with Carol’s brother and the friend mentioned he had a sister. Their first date was not bowling, however. Mitch took Carol to Jan’s Food Mill in Forest Grove, Ore., for homecoming their sophomore year.
“I got the steak and she got the cheeseburger,” Mitch said. “I made her start bowling later. I was already bowling.”
Now, the couple sells burgers, as well as other food, at their bowling alley. Menu options also include hot dogs, corn dogs, chicken strips, grilled cheese, fries, tater tots and spicy cheese curds.
“They’re kinda like crack,” Brandon said about the curds.
The decision about whether Barb Zenner still will make Mexican food on Tuesdays hasn’t been made.
“Every question I get is, is it going to still be a bowling alley and if we’re going to do the Mexican food,” Mitch said.
When their children were young, the Nodlands used to put their baby car seats with the kids in them under the bowling alley tables and the kids napped through all the noise. Now, they can sleep through anything.
Brandon was bit by the bowling bug, Mitch said.
“When we started talking about buying a bowling alley, he printed out 20 centers that were up for sale and left them on my desk,” Mitch said in a written introductory message about the family before they came to Kansas. “He cannot wait to get to Kansas.”
Brandon spent a lot of time in a bowling league, practicing or talking to the pro shop guys.
Oldest son Coty, 26, is engaged to Megan and decided to stay in Vancouver, Wash., where he has a job in sales, and he’s bowled a 279 game. Middle son Cameron, 24, also is engaged and is a table games dealer in LaCenter, Wash., with his fiancé Samantha. He is a two-handed bowler and has won some titles and averages around 200. The couple is staying in the northwest.
The Nodlands took ownership of the bowling alley May 27 and arrived in Newton on June 7. They spent a month looking for a place to reside in Newton and ended up with a duplex in a nearby town.
They enjoy their new business and don’t plan on making many changes at first.
“The place runs really great,” Mitch said. “Everybody likes it. We’re just trying to not screw it up here at the beginning.”
They’re keeping the leagues the same as last year.
“I don’t see anything we need to change,” he said, adding they do want to work on enticing families to go there.
“We keep getting comments, ‘Oh, we can go somewhere else besides swimming,'” Mitch said.
They’re trying to update things on Eastgate Lanes’ Facebook page, like hours, specials and pop-up specials. A pop-up special might be something like if they have few or no customers like they did late Friday afternoon, they might post a pop-up with a $1 a game special.
Then, those people buy other things like food and drinks, Carol said.