Willie Carnell loved his granddaughter, Natalie Ballor, and he loved to bowl.
This past weekend, friends and family of Carnell, who died Nov. 30, 2010, gathered together to honor his memory at the Second Annual Willie Carnell Memorial Nine Pin No Tap Tournament at Morton’s Safari Bowl. All proceeds benefit Easter Seals, where his granddaughter received treatment after being diagnosed with Down syndrome when she was two days old.
“When I worked full-time, my mom and dad would often take Natalie to her therapy at Easter Seals,” Carnell’s daughter Michelle Cluney said. “He was very dear to the cause. He donated, he did 50/50s at the bowling alley to benefit Easter Seals and they would come with me to the telethon and show up for all Easter Seals events.”
Ballor received services at Easter Seals — including physical therapy, eating therapy and speech therapy — from the time she was 6 months old until she was 5. Now 7, she receives services instead at school, but Cluney said the organization is still very important to her family.
“We’re very thankful for the services provided at Easter Seals and all they did for Natalie,” Cluney said. “They’re really great.”
Owner, Deb Clayton, who’s grandson also has Down syndrome, said she was happy to host the tournament at Safari Bowl for the second year.
“I just loved Willie Carnell — everybody loved him,” she said. “To me, he was a person who represented bowling better than anyone. He loved the game and he spent a lot of time bowling here.”
Two of Carnell’s former bowling teammates, Joe Janusz and Harry Seis Jr., put the benefit bowling tournament together last year at Safari Bowl in his memory. The benefit raised $1,000 for the Heart of Illinois Down Syndrome Association.
“He was our bowling buddy and he passed away a couple years ago, so we thought it would be a good idea to honor his name in the bowling community that he was such a big part of,” Seis said. “We knew there was the connection with Natalie and Deb’s grandson having Down Syndrome, so we chose to do this, have a little fun and raise money for the charities.”
Janusz and Seis asked for donations from local businesses and community members to offer raffle items and raise more money for Easter Seals.
“There was just an outpouring of all kinds of different items,” Janusz said. “The community really helped out.”
Raffle tickets are still available at Safari Bowl through the end of February. Items available include a 32-inch flat-screen TV, bowling balls, his and hers Maui Jim sunglasses, kids’ items and other baskets geared toward men and women. Once the raffle is complete, all proceeds from this weekend’s tournament and the raffle will be donated to Easter Seals.
Page 2 of 2 - “We had as many teams as we had last year, so we’re hoping to match what we made last year, but with the raffle, maybe we’ll be able to do a little more,” Seis said. “We’ve been running 50/50s and a lot of people have already donated their winnings back.”
“He really was an awesome person,” Clayton said. “And we love that we can keep his memory alive here.”