CISSNA PARK — Doug Bauer figured Thursday would be the night he finally got his bowling average up to 215. That pursuit, however, is on hold.
"I was about there, only 20 pins away," said Bauer, a 55-year-old regular — with a 213 average — at Park Bowl Lanes. "Then the alley burns down. Not a good week for me."
Saturday's fire that destroyed Cissna Park's bowling alley did more than cancel league play on four nights a week. It forced many in this tiny town in Iroquois County to re-adjust their daily routines.
Cissna Park High School students bowled on the eight lanes for P.E. classes and used the space for post-prom parties. The alley's restaurant drew a steady stream of customers hungry for pork chops and steaks. If someone in town had a fundraiser to host, there was no better place to do it.
"It was the one place in a small town like ours where you could go and not get in any trouble," Bauer said. "A lot of people ate there. Kids would go there on the weekends and drink a pop and hang out.
"For me and a lot of bowlers, it was like a second home. Now there's no place to go. It's a sad day."
Joe Young, chief of the Cissna Park Fire Protection District, joined investigators from the Illinois State Fire Marshal's office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives at the scene Tuesday. On Wednesday, Young said "it's an ongoing investigation but it appears the incident is neither incendiary or arson."
Young said the fire is believed to have orgininated in the southwest corner of the building, a storage area.
Nearby bowling alleys have opened their doors to displaced Cissna Park keglers.
Laura Miller owns Gibson Bowl in Gibson City. A Milford High product, she grew up bowling in Cissna Park.
"Anything we can do to help," she said.
Bauer, who helps run the Thursday night league, said Fast Lanes in Hoopeston has reached out to him. But "90 percent of us lost all our equipment in the fire: bowling balls, shoes, wristbands, everything," he said. "It's a real mess."
Rick Baier is the town's mayor and editor of the local newspaper. He's also a fireman who on Saturday was busy dealing with the blaze.
"I would like to see it rebuilt," Baier said. "The bowling alley brought lots of people to town, gave them something to do on winter nights. I know of gentlemen who have bowled there for over 50 years."