-By Cary Shuman
Vestal has won six candlepin pro tour titles, a Massachusetts state open singles championship, five state women’s doubles titles, and New Hampshire state titles. She reached the mecca by appearing on the Channel 5 television show, “Candlepin Bowling” on two occasions and represented Massachusetts in international team tournaments, defeating teams from Maine, New Hampshire, and New Brunswick, Canada.
All that was missing from her splendid career was an official affirmation that she was among the best. Vestal will receive that coveted designation in October, having been elected to the International Candlepin Bowling Association Hall of Fame.
“When Janet (Poch) called me and said, ‘Congratulations, Hall of Famer,’ I was like wow, I’m stunned,” said Vestal. “Janet was a shoo-in but I wasn’t really sure that I had done enough to be in the Hall of Fame. To be considered among the best women bowlers ever is an honor that is beyond belief to me.”
It was Poch, the most successful bowler of the past 30 years, who nominated Vestal for the sport’s highest honor. The two women met in 1988 during an appearance on Channel 5 at Fairway Sports World in Natick (they competed on successive shows against Tonimarie Baldinelli) and they have been close friends since.
“Nancy Vestal has been one of the best bowlers for a long time,” said Poch. “She’s put in a great streak of bowling and she’s a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure. You can never count her out in a match because she can explode and put two or three strikes together. She has earned and fully deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.”
Poch noted that Vestal has twice connected for four strikes in a row during her career, further testament to her excellence.
Nancy Vestal, who’s known simply as “Nance” by her fellow competitors, truly came up through the ranks of Lynn bowling. Her parents, Robert and Janet Devost, bowled in the Greater Lynn Church League, and she began bowling out of King’s Lynn Lanes as a kid.
“My mom quit bowling when I was fairly young,” recalled Vestal. “She said she was going to quit if I got better than her and that didn’t take very long.”
A graduate of Lynn English High School, Vestal became dedicated to the sport and at the age of 20 she was so proficient that she joined the King’s Lynn team that competed in the North Shore Women’s Pro League. While at King’s Lynn Lanes, she met Lynn resident Millie Levin.
“Millie was the captain of my women’s pro team and she was the one who gave me some pointers that I would have never gotten otherwise without being in that league. She was just really instrumental in teaching me to get to the alleys early and warm up and do this, do that. She had an unbelievable influence on me.”
Vestal also credited two other Lynn bowling greats, Al Lacey and Jim Barber, for her progression in the sport.
“I have to give credit to Albie Lacey and Jimmy Barber because along my way, they’ve always helped me out – those two guys have always been great,” said Vestal. “They’ve taught me a lot of things like how to play shots and stuff like that. I’ve enjoyed my time at Lucky Strike Bowling Alleys.”
Vestal went big-time in 1988 when she topped the field at a Channel 5 TV rolloff at Bowl 76 in Peabody. She later qualified for television by winning a final rolloff in Framingham. She finished second a record 10 times.
“I came in second a lot and the reason I was second was because of Janet,” said Vestal. “It seemed every time I went some place she had already posted the winning score. There were so many good women bowlers out there, to make it on Channel 5 was just unbelievable.”
Vestal had to overcome injuries (she had surgeries on both knees and her right elbow) during her career. Elbow surgery interrupted the best year of her career in 1999. During that season, Vestal won two tour events, including one with a sizzling 1,305 score for ten strings.
“The whole time I was suffering with tendinitis in my right elbow that was almost incapacitating me at times,” said Vestal. “I was getting cortisone shots and right after that season was over, I had to undergo surgery to fix the elbow.”
Vestal’s career highs are symbolic of her Hall of Fame recognition: 189 (single); 454 (triple); 735 (five); and 1,305 (ten).
Nancy Vestal and her husband, Fred, have three children, Sarah, 26, Rebecca, 24, and Benjamin, 20, and two grandchildren.
“My mother, my husband, and my kids hopefully will all be there with me at the Hall of Fame Dinner,” said Vestal. “And I’m hoping my niece, Nicole McKeever, will be there as well.”
Vestal will be the only female inductee in this year’s class. Among the other honorees is Lynn resident Joseph Tavernese.
And Nance Vestal is still knocking the pins down in big numbers.
“I just threw a 631 the other day in the New Hampshire state championships,” said Vestal.
As she looks ahead to accepting the Hall of Fame award, she offers her gratitude to Janet Poch, the Stasia Czernicki of this generation.
“Janet is a phenomenal friend and the greatest bowler that I ever met,” said Vestal. “Tonimarie Baldinelli has always been my hero, but as far as Janet is concerned, there is nobody like her.”