Bowling has been bringing people together for millennia, dating all the way back to the days of ancient Egypt.

James Hall of Bolt has been participating on a senior bowling league at Leisure Lanes Family Bowling Center for many years.

Hall got a huge surprise when he walked into the venue Thursday afternoon to find several of his bowling comrades banded together to host a surprise party in honor of his birthday – his 96th.

The group said they wanted to honor Hall for being an all-around great citizen, friend and encouraging example for other area seniors.

“I thought it was great,” Hall said late Thursday afternoon, after the festivities concluded. "I’ve had 96 and this was the best one yet."

Leisure Lanes owner Mary Dixon said Hall is an inspiration to everyone he meets.

“He has a great sense of humor, a world of knowledge, but most of all, he is a pleasant person,” said Dixon.

“He always comes in with a smile on his face, maybe a joke to tell you. I love to hear his stories, the newest adventure that he’s enjoyed – whether it be where he grew up, where he worked, or his latest adventure like walking under the New River Gorge Bridge.”

Hall was recognized earlier this month for being the oldest person to do the Bridge Walk high above the New River Gorge in Fayetteville – proving that age is just a number and doesn’t limit one’s ability to try new things.

“I always pick at him and tell him I am going to roll out the red carpet when I see him coming in, because he is famous,” Dixon said.

The consensus from the Beckley senior bowlers was that southern West Virginia needs more folks like Hall.

He never meets a stranger. It doesn’t matter who you are, Hall will make you feel welcomed and part of the group, many of the bowlers said.

“He’s just a terrific man and a joy to be around,” said fellow bowler Fred Rickman. “If you see him, you’d not know he was 96 – he’s just a young man at heart.”

Beckley residents Roy Hendrix and his wife Carol both met Hall a few years ago when they joined the team.

“At 96, he’s still a good bowler and he’s an inspiration to other bowlers there and to me,” said Hendrix. “He’s an amazing man that has accomplished so much in his life. He survived World War II and reminds me of my father.”

Jennifer Stump has been bowling with Hall for the past two years.

“He is the youngest person I know – because he’s so young at heart,” said Stump. “He’s exceptional, kind, witty, and just a pleasure to know. He’s a gentleman and he’s special.”

Stump also mentioned that Hall remains vigorous with his love for camping, especially locally at Stephens Lake.

Another fellow bowler, Cheryl Sutyak, commented that Hall still drives for himself and continues to do his own shopping in his 90s.

But what’s most impressive about Hall, says Sutyak, is that “He’s always encouraging people to do what they can do and he, himself, is an inspiration for what you can do."

Delsie Zornes, secretary for the senior leagues at Leisure Lanes, helped organize the celebration by inviting Hall’s family and friends, buying cupcakes, and getting a card for all of the attendees to sign.

“He’s very independent. He lives by himself. He’s even talked about wanting to join BodyWorks,” said Zornes. “He’s had hip surgery and has a pacemaker. He’s just an inspiration to all of us here."

Hall says he’s humbled by his peers’ comments.

“I sure appreciate this,” Hall said. "I started bowling about six years ago. I didn’t have anything to do. I come two days a week – it keeps me active and I like the companionship."

Hall says his advice to younger folks would be to take every day as it comes and simply “do the best that you can.”

He says he’s looking forward to pushing to get to that 100th birthday mark in the years to come.

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