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Helen Duval

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The Helen Duval Legacy (1916 - 2010)
By Mary Lynly

Wherever she went and whoever she touched, people were affected by Helen Duval. “She made me feel like a million dollars,” said Joan Taylor of E. Stroudsburg, Pa. “I was at a pro am where she was and she tried to help my game, as bad as it was. But, she was always gracious and beautiful inside and out. She definitely left a wonderful legacy.”

A life long resident of Berkeley, Helen seemed destined for greatness. Her death leaves an empty space in many venues enjoyed by the bowling world. She brought enthusiasm to everything she did – her professional bowling, her teaching, her work with the VA hospitals for the National BVL Fund, her gardening and her ability to put together an outstanding meal. Then, there was the never ending instructional material she reamed out for bowling papers and the WIBC Woman Bowler magazine.

Not many people know she was a talented milliner at Addys in Oakland, Calif., but also an expert seamstress who not only churned out beautiful clothing for herself, but taking on such tasks as “lined” vests and scarves for the entire California WBA board of directors. Addys was across the street from a bowling alley. On occasion, she would watch the bowlers while waiting for her bus. One day, someone asked her if she would like to try bowling and, at the age of 22, her entire life was about to change. She was a natural.

About this same time, Helen Davidson met Rosaire Duval. “Rosy” owned an eight lane bowling alley where he had numbered the lanes from 41to 48 because people kept referring to his “little” bowl. He was the ultimate promoter and loud and crazy, but you couldn’t help but love him. He charmed Helen and soon they were married.

The Duvals had two sons, Robert and Richard. When their son Richard developed polio at age five, Helen introduced her own brand of therapy to his fitness program. She held him by the back of his belt at the foul line and taught him to bowl. Eventually, Richard would book 208, become a pro, and travel the world with his mother on her many visits to the VA medical facilities demonstrating that anyone can find enjoyment in bowling.

Helen had become more involved in their bowling business and had a special affinity for youth bowling. She put together a match team and contacted other bowls to do the same. Her team had four boys and one girl – Elaine Hagin. This was a forerunner for traveling youth match teams. There was no youth organization so they all joined the adult WIBC/ABC. The parent organizations were pushing youth bowling and Milt Raymer was working on their behalf to create districts throughout the U.S. to form youth bowling organizations. Helen was tapped to become the first certified instructor and junior coordinator for the west coast. One of bowling’s most dynamic women, Helen Duval garnered an endless list of honors and awards recognizing her superior service to the bowling industry as well as her performance as a professional on the lanes. She touched people all over the U.S. and beyond with her clinics and motivational visits to VA hospitals. The more the challenge, the more it drove her.

Helen seemed to have inexhaustible energy and her enthusiasm was infectious. Everything she touched seemed to work. Though she never had a bowling lesson in her life, she was one of the nation’s most effective clinicians, presenting the basics in simple, understandable terms. She was a picture bowler. “I attribute my good bowling to the junior program,” she said, “It’s good, basic bowling.” She was a dedicated bowler, writer and teacher. She was a stickler for the rules, and a respected ambassador of her sport. Her enthusiasm filled a room, and her friends filled auditoriums. It was not unusual for Helen to command everyone to “get up” and she would give one of her famous Stand-Up clinics.

An example of Helen’s incredible presence came from Joan Feinblum when she was working at Napa State Hospital where there was a group of emotionally disturbed young people. Joan got an idea and asked Helen if she would consider giving these kids a clinic at the Yountville old soldiers home bowling facility. In her inimitable way, Helen enthusiastically agreed. Joan arrived with 30 of these kids in hand and she said, “Because we rarely took them out because you could never be sure what any of them would do, we had nearly as many staff members.” One particular boy did not talk and few approached him. When Helen got to him she high fived him slapping his hand hard – and in the process of getting him lined up sort of kicked his leg. Joan and staff were horrified but this boy loved Helen. Somehow he identified with her type of command and began to talk with her and in fact, his behavior changed completely from that time on.

In 1998, all of the California WBA clinicians were called together to put a procedure in place so that, in spite of teaching styles, there was a consistency in the clinic program. All arrived with suggestions – except Helen. Helen really thought that everyone should just conform to what she considered a tried and true method of teaching – hers. Like all things Helen Duval did – she did it her way.

The California WBA had Hospitality programs every year at convention time and many of the board members were extremely clever at putting their costumes together but it was hard to beat what Duval came up with. She was an incredible witch – crooked nose, snaggle tooth, green face and all or a fabulous flapper.

She was a great cook. Have you have ever tasted the wonderful cheese rolls at the Red Lobster restaurant? I tasted them first at Helen Duval’s home. When you were at her home for get-togethers the fare was always elegantly served and wonderful tasting. Joan Feinblum tells a story of having been invited to Helen’s for dinner. Joan was new on the scene and idolized Helen. She said, “My God – I thought I had arrived.” Joan had also been a part of a wig league and was sporting her latest. Helen served soup. Animated Joan got a little overzealous and the wig just popped off of her head – into the soup! Joan said, “I was embarrassed and paralyzed – I didn’t know what to do.” So, she said she just took the wig out of the soup and put it back on her head.

Helen was the premier grower of African violets. When the flower was lucky enough to find its way into the Duval household – it simply grew. She had large clear glass bowls full of miniature African Violets and they adorned her window sills. Her signature gift when awarding her Helen Duval AMF award to an outstanding youth director was one of her violets which she always toted from home.

Helen Duval was a pioneer. She was most proud of having been the first woman appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. In 1974, she was the first to be inducted into the California WBA Hall of Fame for Superior Performance. She was a charter member of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association and the Ladies Professional Bowling Tour’s first Lifetime Honorary Member. She was the first to receive AMF’s national award, which later bore her name, for Outstanding Contribution to Youth Bowling. She was also the first woman inducted into the Alameda County BA’s Hall of Fame.

She wrote a series of articles for the Woman Bowler magazine on bowling technique and talked me into doing a series of pictures showing “Right and Wrong.” Of course, I was the one who did the “wrong.” Bowling World Newspaper has carried her many timeless articles and continues to do so. In 1996 Helen Duval was the recipient of the Bowling Writers Association of America John O. Martino Award for Meritorious Service.

She captured two professional titles during her career and in 1961 captured the BPAA National Doubles title with long time friend Nobu Asami. In 1969 her Fitzpatrick Chevrolet team won the team event in the WIBC Championship Tournament and she won the All Events title. She was selected three times to the All-American Bowling team and held a 200 average in 1967.

She was a member of the LPBT Hall of Fame and in 1970 she was inducted into the WIBC Hall for Superior Performance. She was the recipient of the BPAA V.A. Wapensky Award, recognizing her contributions to the advancement of bowling, and listed in the 1982 Guinness Book of Records. The now defunct “Helen Duval Fan Club” had a large group of devotees who gathered each year at WIBC convention time for fun and “fund-raising” for youth scholarships. In 1993 she was honored as a Bowling Legend at the National bowling Hall of Fame and Museum’s Salute to Champions. In 2007, she was the recipient of the BPAA Dick Weber Bowling Ambassador Award and is a member of the Senior Athletes Hall of Fame.

Duval toured the VA medical centers as the National BVL Fund’s Honorary Chairperson for nearly 25 years. She was a Bronze Certified Coach and a symbol of enthusiasm in her clinics, and on the lanes. She traveled through all kinds of weather to remote destinations to do her job for BVL. So much so, at one point the National BVL committee decided Helen had to have a cell phone. She was not too excited about this. Not too long after, she flew into a city and then drove to a remote area. Something dictated that she stay a day longer but she failed to contact anyone. Her family and the BVL family was terrified that something had happened to her. They tried the cell phone and nothing. When she finally (casually) touched base they said, “How about your cell phone? Where is it?” “Oh,” she said, “I keep it in the trunk of the car.” And that pretty much told the cell phone story.

We could go around the U.S. and abroad and the stories would abound. All would echo one thing, “She will be missed.” Helen will certainly be an addition to the big bowling center in the sky and teach them all how to do it “right.”

Helen Jane Duval died in her sleep on July 29, 2010.

Donations in Helen Duval’s name may be sent to:
California USBC BVL Fund - 149 Russell Azusa, CA 91702

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