In the 56-year history of the PBA, there is no one who has personally experienced as much of the history and evolution of the sport’s professional organization than Barb Wilt, who will bring her 44-year career with PBA to an end when she retires on Aug. 31.
Wilt began her career with PBA in a clerical position in July 1970 when PBA’s offices were located on Merriman Road in Akron, Ohio, and there were just five people working in the office. Over the next 44 years, she created a legacy of service to the organization and its members.
“It’s impossible to thank Barb Wilt enough for her professionalism, reliability and talent over an amazing career with PBA,” said PBA Commissioner Tom Clark. “Without ever having thrown a ball in competition, Barb has been the heart of the association and no one has meant more to the enduring history of the PBA.”
It was an employment agency newspaper ad and an opportunity to work in public relations that peaked Wilt’s interest in working with PBA.
“I saw this ad in the paper for a job at the PBA which included working in public relations among other things, so I went to the employment agency and applied, and they sent me for an interview,” said Wilt. “I met with Joe Antenora (who was director of operations and later commissioner) and (financial director) Chuck Clemens and they contacted me a couple of days later with an offer. I paid Snelling and Snelling $250 for helping me get the job and they were kind enough to let me take out a loan and I made monthly payments of $25 to pay off the fee.
“By the way,” Wilt added jokingly, “public relations meant running press releases on the mimeograph machine and stuffing them in envelopes and then mailing them.”
She may have been disappointed with that PR job, but there was no shortage of things to do as the organization grew. Wilt was called on to handle assignments in membership and tournament entries among other jobs which became increasingly important with the development of the senior and regional tours.
“I processed all PBA Tour entries and payments and sent all mailings to the membership and media,” she said. “Later, I became involved in keeping tournament and player stats in our database which is something I have been doing ever since I started.
“I’ve seen so many things and had the pleasure of meeting so many people. It doesn’t seem possible; I mean, who thinks when they walk into an office on the first day that they’ll still be there 44 years later?”
Wilt wasn’t a stranger to bowling when she applied to work with PBA which no doubt led to her interest in the job at the PBA. She lived near a bowling center in Akron as a kid.
“The first director of operations at the PBA was Danny Mitseff whose father owned Bories Bowland which was at the end of my street when I was in junior high,” said Wilt. “In the summer we would go down there to get out of the heat. One dollar could get your rental shoes, two games, a Coke and a Kit Kat candy bar. Pop Mitseff wanted you to bowl when you came into his establishment so I was fortunate to be taught how to bowl correctly by Danny’s father when I was 12 years old.”
Another interesting part of her experience with PBA was not actually working for PBA at all, but helping PBA founder Eddie Elias with some of his projects.
“Eddie (Elias) who was an agent and manager who represented people in entertainment and sports. He would get scripts and unpublished books from people all the time and he would pay me on the side to read them and tell him what I thought,” she said. “His administrative assistant (Rainy Stitzlien) also had a boutique attached to our building and she sold furs and other high-end clothing. Once I got asked to try on clothes and model them because actor Bernard Fox, who played Colonel Crittenton on the TV series Hogan’s Heroes and Dr. Bombay on Bewitched, wanted to buy something for his wife. I had a build similar to hers.
“Since Eddie’s company was in the same building, you didn’t just work for the PBA but for Eddie Elias Enterprises and for Rainy’s company as well. I got to meet movie and TV stars, professional golfers, and, of course, the greatest bowlers in the world.”
As a nearly lifelong bowling fan, Wilt also was excited with the opportunity to meet and work with the world’s greatest bowlers who were made famous on ABC telecasts of the PBA Tour.
“I always loved bowling,” she said, “I watched it on ABC before I started working at PBA, so I was really excited to get to meet all the bowlers. I’ve been blessed to know the Weber family and all the truly great bowlers who have come and gone over the years and to watch some of our current champions grow up and become successful. One project that was really closed to my heart was getting the opportunity to teach and be part of the PBA School.
“More recently, seeing PBA’s growth internationally, changes in technology and to see people like Jason Belmonte and Osku Palermaa revolutionizing the sport with their two-handed delivery have kept working with PBA very interesting to me.”
Now in retirement, Wilt will continue what might be her most important job of all – as a grandmother – to eight-month-old Will when she moves across country to Asheville, North Carolina to be closer to her daughters Angie and Amanda (who lives in Carrollton, Ga.) and their families. She also plans to do some volunteer work with the Asheville Humane Society.
If there was one guiding principle that guided Wilt throughout her career it was the dedication to customer service.
“I would often get the same question a hundred times, but I had to make each person or player feel like they were getting the best part of me and they were getting the best service possible,” she said. “You have to always remember that these were people who cared a lot about the sport and it was their passion, and in many cases their dream.”