Legendary bowler Syl Thiel, 93, dies in Lake City

Syl Thiel of Lake City participated in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships 71 times, tying a record held by two other bowlers. Thiel, 93, died at his home in Lake City on Monday.

The sport of bowling lost an ironman on Monday, as Sylvester "Syl" Thiel, 93, died at his home in Lake City.

On March 16 in Reno, Nev., Thiel participated in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships for the 71st time, tying a record held by two other men. He made his first Open Championships appearance in 1940 in Detroit and had become one of the most recognizable faces at the tournament.

This year, Thiel returned to the lanes the next day to bowl doubles with his wife, Phyllis, whom he met while competing at the 1965 Open Championships in St. Paul.

Thiel got an early start in the sport, bowling two games a day for 15 cents apiece while growing up, and he joined his first league in 1935. After graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force and served in Holland during the Normandy Invasion.

Bowling and the Open Championships became a lifestyle for Thiel, who made a career as a bowling proprietor and looked forward to his annual journey to compete on the sport's biggest stage.


He recorded 27 perfect games in his career, made numerous appearances on the television show "Bowling for Dollars," and once won $8,500 in a nightlong bowling match, using the proceeds to buy a grocery store.

In an interview with the Post-Bulletin one year ago, the 92-year-old Thiel was asked which actor he'd like to see portray him if a movie were made about his life. "Bruce Willis," he said. "I like the way he handles himself."

Thiel is survived by his wife of 48 years, Phyllis; son, Tim (Barry), daughters, Cindy (Steve), Jacqui (Bill), Patti (Mike), eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 5 at Schleicher Funeral Homes, Lake City Chapel in Lake City. A celebration of Thiel's life will take place at St. John's Lutheran Church on Monday, June 6 at 11 a.m.

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