The bowlers of the Business and Professional League at Mardi Gras Lanes wanted to do something special for their oldest member Tuesday.
Don Mattson of Malta rounded out the season with an average of 145 despite a pinched nerve in his neck.
The 89-year-old is a World War II veteran, so fellow bowler Pat O’Donnell figured they shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to thank Mattson for his service.
“We need to say thank you to those who have served and those who still serve for the freedom we have,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s important to do.”
O’Donnell arranged for Marine Staff Sgt. Chase Kovarik to surprise Mattson at the league banquet with a baseball cap and patch, as well as a few kind words.
Kovarik, a Marine recruiter living in Maple Park, described how Mattson enlisted in 1943, ultimately sending $25 out of each month’s $50 paycheck back home.
“There’s no ex-Marine; there’s no former Marine,” Kovarik explained. “There’s only Marines.”
As Mattson received a standing ovation, Kovarik thanked him for being part of the Greatest Generation. Mattson, meanwhile, was surprised by the presentation.
“That’s a long time ago, 1945,” Mattson said. “I’m glad to still be around and able to bowl.”
In fact, 1945 was just a few years before Mattson started bowling. He’s been knocking down pins for 65 years, and was inducted into the DeKalb Area USBC’s Hall of Fame in 1995.
He expects to be back for the next season.
“I’m planning on it,” Mattson said. “If I’m still here.”
Recruiting future heroes: Kovarik does presentations like this from time to time. About 18 months ago, he helped ensure a plaque with Lance Cpl. Michael Finley’s name was hung in Hinckley High School.
Finley was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967, but his parents wanted to make sure he was memorialized at his alma mater.
Kovarik spends most of his time, though, as a Marine recruiter in DeKalb. He enlisted the summer before his senior year in high school and left for boot camp in San Diego in June 2002, later serving as a helicopter crew chief. Now, he tells young people that being a Marine is a calling.
“It’s not a job,” Kovarik said. “It’s a lifestyle.”
• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.