Ruth Zentz, 93, 1940s champion of duckpin bowling, sports director

August 11, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Ruth Zentz, a 1940s champion duckpin bowler who went on to direct city girls' and women's amateur sports programs, died of congestive heart failure Aug. 4 at St. Agnes HealthCare. The Catonsville resident was 93.

Miss Zentz won top women's honors in the 1944 Evening Sun tournament and was ranked among the top 10 female bowlers for the next decade. In 1951, she became the first Maryland woman to score above 200 in a recorded competition. Her 209 game set a women's national duckpin record.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Harlem Avenue, she attended city public schools. She was a sewing machine operator at the Schoeneman clothing plant when she joined that company's duckpin bowling team in 1935. Two years later, she entered what sports reporters called the "major-league ranks of duckpin bowling" with high scores in several leagues.

News accounts of her style said she "used a cross alley ball notable for its explosive quality." She competed against Elizabeth "Toots" Barger and other notable bowlers of the era.

In 1944, she captured the much-contested Evening Sun tournament at a Forest Park bowling alley. Her prize was a $1,050 war bond.

"In bowling, she was not an exhibitionist," said a fellow bowler, Min Weisenborn of Arbutus. "She was always giving it all she had. We were friendly enemies. You couldn't find a better person on the lanes. She'd be the first to congratulate you if you beat her."

In 1951, at the old Stadium Lanes on Gorsuch Avenue in Waverly, Miss Zentz broke a women's national record with a game of 209, which included tripleheader and doubleheader strikes and four spares. She bested the then-standing record of 203 held by a Norfolk, Va., woman. Miss Zentz's score stood for another three years.

After leaving her Schoeneman job, Miss Zentz worked briefly as a secretary at School 84 in South Baltimore. In 1941, she joined the office staff of the old Franklin Bowling Center on Edmondson Avenue, where she remained for another 16 years. She was forced to leave the job when the alley burned.

In 1957, she became a secretary at the city's Bureau of Recreation, then at Calvert and Biddle streets. She was its senior secretary before retiring in 1981. For most of those years, after she put aside her daytime office work, she went to athletic fields and school gyms in the evenings to direct amateur sports programs.

"She was amazing and had an enormous capacity for efficient work. She loved sports all her life," said her former boss, John P. Kirby, retired commissioner of municipal sports for Baltimore City. "She did many things in our municipal sports division but was director of the women's and girls' basketball and softball programs and swim meets and tennis tournaments. She worked nights and weekends without pay."

An account of her career in a 1980 Evening Sun article recognized her dedication.

"It wasn't long before Miss Zentz, an underling for the municipal sports commissioner, became the unofficial director of the girls' sports program," the article said.

"They kept saying, `You're wearing two hats, you're wearing two hats,'" Miss Zentz said in the same article. "But I liked doing it. I didn't mind giving my time. I love sports. It's been my life."

Miss Zentz was active in the Maryland Amateur Athletic Union and was awarded a lifetime membership in the mid-1980s. She helped arrange its track-and-field competitions, swim meets and softball games.

"She loved people, especially children, and worked very hard for them," said Kathy Campbell, the union's former president. "She didn't care what color you were, she cared that you gave all on the field."

She received the Catholic Youth Organization of the Year Award in the mid-1970s. After her retirement, she became president of the Violetville Tuesday Senior Citizen Club. In 1987, she was inducted into the Recreation Pioneers Hall of Fame.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Second English Lutheran Church, 5010 Briarclift Road, where she was a longtime member.

Miss Zentz leaves no immediate survivors.

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