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Thanks to him, many seniors are bowling

He was a master machinist, a businessman and a synagogue leader, but Cy Woolf's real passion was bowling.

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002

Simon "Cy" Woolf

* * *

BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL -- Simon "Cy" Woolf knocked down a lot of bowling pins in his lifetime, but for senior citizen bowlers, he'll always be the man who set them up.

"You could go into any bowling alley on the west coast of Florida and mention the name Cy Woolf, and they'll know who you're talking about," said his son, Ken Woolf of Boston.

Mr. Woolf, a longtime refinishing and reupholstery store owner and a driving force behind senior-level bowling in Florida, died Dec. 6. He was 87.

Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Mr. Woolf moved to Boston with his family at age 9. He met and married his wife, Josephine, at a young age; the couple had their first son before Mr. Woolf was old enough to vote.

Mr. Woolf's career trajectory is one that would give even the lowliest mail clerk hope. He was working as a salesman with modest success -- he was one of the first people to introduce the soft drink 7-up to his area of Boston.

With a young family to care for, he considered a new career as a machinist. With a war looming, he knew he'd be able to make a living, despite knowing nothing about machinery.

His first job was carting hot scraps from one press to another. The hours were long, the heat blistering.

"He would come home at night and lay face down on the bed with his hands hanging over the edge of the bed into buckets of salt water, just to shrink the swelling and ease the pain," Ken said.

Every day, Mr. Woolf watched and learned the ins and outs of the business. When he thought he understood the larger machinery, he quit and took a better job.

This process repeated itself through several promotions at different companies until he was recognized as a master machinist.

He landed a job at General Electric, working on highly classified government projects. As a result, he was exempt from the draft.

But this didn't sit well with Mr. Woolf. His friends were fighting abroad, so why shouldn't he? He left his protected position and started managing a gas station. It wasn't long before he was drafted.

He served two tours in Europe before 1947, but remained active in the military community for decades thereafter as a five-term president of the Jewish War Veterans, Albert Aronovitz Post #375.

Religion, too, was important in Mr. Woolf's life. A student of the Torah and the Talmud, Mr. Woolf immediately joined a synagogue upon moving to Tampa in 1950. He was a four-time president of Beth Israel Synagogue, a founder of Beth Israel Congregation and Congregation Kol Ami, and was instrumental in the acquisition of land needed for Tampa's first Jewish cemetery.

When he moved to Tampa, Mr. Woolf opened Serv-All Furniture Stores in Drew Park, which over 42 years became one of the largest refinishing and reupholstery stores on the West Coast of Florida.

In 1962, the store caught fire and burned to the ground. When he escaped the burning building, Mr. Woolf realized his wife and youngest son, Steve, were still inside. He ran back inside and pulled them out.

Just as remarkably, when it came time to rebuild the store, Mr. Woolf's competitors all chipped in.

"His competitors brought equipment and tools to him so that he could go back in business, which was a tribute to his integrity and his reputation," said son Bob Woolf of Nashville.

Aside from his family and his work, it was a lifelong hobby that brought Mr. Woolf the most joy: bowling.

"He approached bowling as a sport very scientifically," Bob said. "He analyzed exactly what happens to the ball, how it turns, how it spins, how it reacts, how the pins react to the ball, the aerodynamics -- it was a science to him."

Mr. Woolf was an excellent bowler. He carried a 175 average and in 1994, at the ripe old age of 79, bowled a perfect score of 300, though not in league-sanctioned play.

In the 1980s, he noticed that senior citizens had fewer and fewer recreational options, and he thought: Why not bowling?

In 1984, he convinced local organizations to help launch the Senior Bowling Clubs of Florida. Senior leagues gained popularity, and before long, Mr. Woolf was organizing three senior tournaments a month.

"He learned how to use a computer himself, and would come home and record all the scores and print it out on his computer," Bob said. "It was his business. He approached it with such integrity and commitment."

Mr. Woolf's work led to a statewide senior bowling league, and helped lead the American Bowling Congress, bowling's governing body, to establish and shape rules for senior bowlers. For his behind-the-scenes work, he was inducted into the Tampa Bowling Association Hall of Fame.

"On the lanes and off," Bob said in a eulogy, "he walked the walk."

Mr. Woolf's survivors include his wife of 67 years, Josephine; five sons, Ken, of Boston, Bob, of Nashville, Tenn., Ahron, of Toronto, Murray, of Denver, and Steve, of Fairfax, Va.; their wives; 18 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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