“Helen was a very talented bowler and she touched so many people’s lives through her work with the Bowlers to Veterans Link and her years of coaching youth bowlers in California,” said USBC President Darlene Baker, who also chairs the BVL board. “She was a tremendous ambassador for the sport and will be greatly missed.”
A lifetime resident of Berkeley, Calif., Duval started bowling in 1938 and joined her first league a year later. She had taken a job after graduating high school and after work each day she had to wait for the bus to go home. She passed the time watching people bowl at the nearby Cal-Rec Center.
“Somebody asked me if I’d like to try bowling,” Duval recalled in a 2006 article for the Contra Costa Times. “I had never tried it before. I was a natural.”
She would go on to become one of the pioneers of women’s bowling, and was a founding member of the women’s professional bowling movement in 1959. She won two professional titles during her career and in 1961 captured the Nationals Doubles tournament with Nobu Asami.
In 1969, Duval won both the Women’s International Bowling Congress (now USBC) Championships team event and all-event titles. She was selected to the All-American Bowling team three times and held a high average of 200 in 1967.
Duval also proved to be a great teacher of the sport. She started teaching bowling clinics in the 1950s when the American Junior Bowling Congress requested she help bring the sport to California’s youth. After impressing people in the states, Duval traveled to Asia where she conducted more bowling clinics and seminars.
She said in a 1992 Bowlers Journal article that her son, Richard, was her motivation. Richard was diagnosed with polio at age 5 and was hospitalized for almost a year. But Duval helped her son to bowl – he started in a wheelchair and later was able to stand at the foul line – and Richard eventually became accomplished enough to have a short stint on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour. The experience of working with her son helped her develop techniques for teaching disabled individuals.
She did extensive work with the BVL, the nonprofit group that provides programs to veteran and active duty service men and women. For more than 20 years she went to veterans hospitals across the country to teach the sport. The BVL named her honorary co-chair in 1985 and in 2000 she received the Secretary’s Award, the highest award given by the Department of Veterans Affairs, for her unwavering commitment to America’s veterans.
Duval was honored as a “bowling legend” at the National Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum’s Salute to Champions Gala in 1993. Two years later she received the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America V.A. Wapensky award. She was selected as the BPAA’s Dick Weber Bowling Ambassador Award winner in 2007.
Duval, who owned an eight-lane bowling center in Oakland, Calif., along with her husband, Rosy, was one of the first women to become a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. She served for five years, following her appointment during the Kennedy administration.
She was inducted into WIBC (now USBC) Hall of Fame for Superior Performance in 1970, and was inducted into the Ladies Professional Bowlers Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1996 she was inducted into the Senior Athletes Hall of Fame.
In lieu of flowers, a donation in Helen Duval’s name can be sent to the Bowlers to Veterans Link, 11350 Random Hill Rd., Suite 800, Fairfax, VA 22030.