No, Trudy Stewart isn’t retiring. But after 38 years on the job, she will stop long enough to tell you about life behind the front counter at St. Clair Bowl.
From folding socks for the vending machine to announcing high scores over the loud speaker, Stewart does it all.
No one has worked at the Fairview Heights institution on Old Collinsville Road longer than she.
“If you take care of the customers, then the place takes care of you,” Stewart said. “You couldn’t ask for a better work environment.”
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Her loyalty to the bowling alley has paid off more than once.
“This place saved my house for me,” Stewart recalled on a recent afternoon.
The bowling alley waitress turned manager fell on hard times in 1996 when her husband was injured on the job. She was afraid they would lose their home in Trenton.
But St. Clair Bowl stepped in to help, giving them the money they needed at the time.
“If you’re a good employee,” Stewart said, “they take care of you.”
She eventually paid them back. And in return, Stewart does her best to take care of the bowling alley.
As the bowling alley marks its 40th year, old photos of Stewart and the staff are on display. The bowling alley opened in 1977. Stewart joined the wait staff two years later.
Back then, you could smoke in the bowling alley. Bowlers ordered beer or a cocktail called a “Coke High.”
“I walked in the door, they handed me an apron and put me out on the lanes,” Stewart recalled.
When the bowling alley opened in 1977, each game was 70 cents, and St. Clair Bowl had automatic scoring machines — a new feature for back then.
The bowling alley has kept updating the scoring system since then. But somethings haven’t changed. The alley still displays two unique carpet murals commissioned by the family in the 1980s.
“I was here when they were installed,” Stewart said. “They’d start with one pattern, then they laid another one. It was just like painting the way they sculpted. It was really amazing.”
For the next three decades, Stewart watched the bowling evolve. St. Clair Bowl eventually launched youth leagues to keep families coming back to the bowling alley. The director of that program is one of several employees who can always count on Stewart.
“It’s hard to find people who want to stay on the job that long and stay motivated,” said Mike Imes, director of the youth leagues. “She supports the center the same way she did when I met her. Nothing has changed. Even if she is having a bad day, she still greets people and talks them.”
James Johnson has chatted with Stewart for at least 15 years. On a recent Thursday, he greeted Stewart with a familiar hello before heading to his lane.
“Trudy is one of the best people that works here,” Johnson said. “She always has a kind word to say.”