Jan. 13, 1939 – Feb. 1, 2014
Thomas Jacob “Tom” Harnisch, the youngest bowler in history to become a paid professional, died Saturday in Florida Hospital, Tampa, after a short illness. He was 75.
Born in Buffalo, he grew up in Black Rock, became a pinsetter when he was 10 and began bowling at age 12.
Three years later, he was a member of the best bowling team in the area, Allie Brandt’s Lockport Felts.
In 1957, a year before he graduated from Riverside High School, he turned pro, receiving a salary from Simon Pure Beer to bowl on its team.
The following year, he became a member of the Brunswick Advisory Staff of Champions and continued on the staff through the 1960s.
Also in 1958, he became a charter member of the Professional Bowlers Association, the eighth person to enroll.
In 1959, he bowled in the first three tournaments sponsored by the PBA and in 1964 became the first person from Buffalo to win a PBA tournament.
He competed against the greatest players in the sport during the 1960s and 1970s.
His all-time high series was 797, which he attained twice. His best year was 1960-61, when he maintained a season average of 227 while playing for the widely known Stroh’s Beer Bowling Team based in Detroit. He then became a member of the Detroit Thunderbirds, which won the only championship of the National Bowling League, a short-lived 10-team circuit that operated in the 1961-62 season. In 1965, he won the national doubles championship with Dave Soutar.
Mr. Harnisch also was a member of the American Bowling Congress from 1954 until he retired from the pro bowling tour in 1978 because of declining health.
He was inducted into the Greater Buffalo USBC Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Upon his induction, Buffalo News sports reporter Milt Northrup wrote:
“The strapping, handsome Harnisch was perhaps the most recognizable bowling figure in Buffalo during the ’50s and ’60s. He appeared often on Beat the Champ-style television shows, wrote a bowling tips column for the Courier-Express, was a representative for Simon Beer and Brunswick, played exhibitions, gave clinics and visited Veterans Administration hospitals.”
He moved to Las Vegas in 1979 and worked as a poker dealer at several casinos until he retired in 2000. He moved to Tampa last month.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Paulette Irene Kalatta; three daughters, Mary, Brenda, and Ilene Claudette Reitz; a sister, Phyllis Anore; and three granddaughters.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Assumption Catholic Church, 435 Amherst St.