Wantagh resident William “Billy” Kimbley has dedicated the past 50 years of his life to repairing and maintaining the machinery at Maple Lanes RVC — and he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“I am not retiring,” Kimbley, the Rockville Centre bowling alley’s head mechanic, said. “No, that is not happening.”
Maple Family Centers, a family-owned company that operates Maple Lanes, with locations across New York and Florida, threw Kimbley a surprise party to celebrate both his 50th anniversary with the bowling alley and his 75th birthday in Oct.
“It was an amazing day,” Kimbley said. “I was working on stuff up front, and I had a feeling that maybe I was going to have a piece of cake for my birthday. When I went into the room, it was filled with all the bowlers that I thought left, and the mechanics from the other centers came.”
He said that outside of getting to spend time with his children and grandchildren, he couldn’t think of anything that could have been better.
“I lost 10 pounds in tears,” he added. “When I went home, I also told my kids. I get really emotional. It was just a fantastic day.”
Kimbley is an avid bowler, so ending up as a mechanic in a bowling alley, is no surprise.
“I used to hang out at Wantagh Lanes when I was a kid, and they got tired of kicking me out, so they gave me a job,” he said. “It was my first time behind the machines. I thought they (bowling alleys) were very loud, had too many moving parts and I thought I wanted nothing to do with that.”
He never planned on becoming a mechanic, but he gained experience from working on his cars and received a certificate in air conditioning, refrigeration and heating from Farmingdale State College.
In the evenings he worked at both the Wantagh and Rockville Centre bowling chains, and in the daytime found work as a roofer and an electrician.
Now, decades later, he is in charge of repairing these large pinsetter machines whenever they break down. He said that this sometimes requires him to take apart and reassemble the main gearbox, which could involve a lot of rewiring and cleaning to maintain it.
“I still get a kick out of teaching these young guys that want to learn it, and I have some guys that are just really, really great, and I know that they’ll take care of my machines when I’m long gone,” Kimbley said. “It is important to me. I am rebuilding them from the bottom up. Everything that’s on them, we keep them moving. It takes a lot of work.”
Kimbley has mentored numerous staff members over the years. “I have a couple of them that are policemen, and they are going to be retired before me,” he said. “One fellow said, ‘Bill, when I retire, can I come back and get my job because I know you are still going to be here?’”
Joe LaSpina, vice president of Maple Family Centers, recalled how his father first met Kimbley in the 1980s while bowling in the junior leagues in Rockville Centre.
“He tried to hire Billy to work at one of our centers, but he stayed in Rockville Centre, so my dad would joke he had to buy the building to get Billy to work for us,” LaSpina said. “We bought the bowling center in 2009, but we have been in the business since 1960.”
LaSpina said he and his family feel lucky to have had Kimbley as a part of their lives and are glad he has stayed with them for so many years.
“We haven’t kept track of how many people have worked for him, but it has been hundreds of people that he’s mentored through the years, including the people who work for us at our other locations,” LaSpina said. “He is a great influence on all of them.”
Kimbley’s mentorship skills, however, extend far beyond the bowling alley, having made a profound impact on the many people who have known him. Kimbley said he appreciates the love and wants to thank the staff at Maple Lanes and the LaSpina family for allowing him to continue working for them through the years.
“I just feel very fortunate to be able to be there all those years and to have so many great people in my life there,” Kimbley said. “It has been a lot of fun.”