BELLEVILLE — Now 30 years old, the "Darryl, Susan, Lisa & Mark Elbe Bowl For Breath" event -- a scotch doubles bowling tourney at Bel-Air Bowl in Belleville -- has raised more than $600,000 for cystic fibrosis research.
The Elbe family was a bit unsure how to proceed when Darryl Elbe died last September at age 74. He was not only the event's chief organizer, fundraiser, auction-item gatherer and life of the bowling party, but Elbe had truly become the face of a tournament that draws close to 700 bowlers annually.
"He'd know just about everybody that was up there at the tournament for the most part," said Dennis Elbe, one of Darryl and Verna Elbe's four sons.
It didn't take the family long to realize that the event should go on, just as it had for the previous 29 years.
"We felt like it was our duty and responsibility to carry it on," Dennis Elbe said. "Somehow between all of us, we were going to do this in some way shape or form to see how it went. His goal was never to stop it until we find a cure for this thing.
"We believe that they're close, but they're just not quite there yet. Any money that we could bring in for this, Dad would be that much happier."
And other than attending his children and later his grandchildren's sporting events, few things made Elbe happier than raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of St. Louis.
Two of the Elbe's children, 14-year-old Lisa and 26-year-old Mark, lost their lives because of cystic fibrosis. Mark Elbe helped get the bowling tournament going in 1984 along with Bruce Mitchell.
Another of Elbe's children, 19-year-old daughter Susan Elbe, was killed by a drunken driver.
Each Christmas would typically kick off the bowling tournament season for the Elbes.
"We want to try to keep it going as long as we can, but it's kind of rough," said Darryl's widow, Verna Elbe. "We don't have all the time that he put in. We tried to keep it in Belleville, that's where we wanted to have it since we started it. (Bel-Air) works pretty well with us, too.
"A lot of them bowl only once a year and this is it."
Darryl Elbe's goal was to try to raise more money each year than the event brought in the year before. The current goal is more than the $64,000 raised in 2012 and a few open spots for bowlers remain in the 3:30 p.m. shift
Brothers Dennis, Kevin and Jim Elbe have help line up teams and their wives and children have all taken on additional responsibilities.
"We're finding out that he put a lot more time and work into this than we ever dreamed," Dennis Elbe said. "We always wondered why he was so crabby and grouchy the week before and now we're finding out why."
But as Dennis Elbe said, it's enjoyable work leading toward a fun day and night and a worthy cause.
"We couldn't do it without the businesses and the people that make donations and help make this all possible," he said. "There's a lot of money from people that don't even bowl, just strictly donations.
"We always used to look for bowlers, but now it's almost like they come looking for us. We tell them every year that it's the last weekend in February so they can put it on their calendars."
At a glance
What: "Bowl for Breath," 30th Annual Cystic Fibrosis Scotch Doubles Bowling Tournament
When: 3:30, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bel-Air Bowl, 200 South Belt West, Belleville
Fee: $30 per couple