Gene Chisholm: 24 hour bowling marathon for prison ministry

Man to celebrate 83rd birthday with 24-hour bowling marathon

KATHY STEVENS The York Dispatch

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Gene Chisholm, 83, bowls some practice games at the Colony Park Lanes North, Tuesday, March 6,…

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if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.width = requestedWidth + “px”; document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } A dip in the surf wouldn’t end up in jail time for most folks.But it did for Gene Chisholm, in a roundabout way.

His road to prison began in Miami Beach some 35 years ago when currents pulled him beneath the ocean. He said he thought he would drown and struggled to stay afloat.

“Then I took a deep breath, went beneath the water and prayed,” Chisholm said from his office at York County Council of Churches. “I heard a soft voice saying, ‘Don’t fight it. Just float.'”

That voice, that struggle in the surf was his first step in a journey that a decade later led him to start a ministry at York County Prison.

Now, 25 years since the start of the White Rose Chapter of the Yokefellowship Prison Ministry, Chisholm is struggling to keep the ministry afloat. Because of that he is celebrating his 83rd birthday with a 24-hour bowling event in hope of raising money.

Sitting at a desk in his office, Chisholm closed the ministry’s check register to talk about the fundraiser.

“You can’t do much with $4.50,” he said referencing


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the balance of cash in the ministry’s coffers. “I can’t do much with that.”Aims for a record: Chisholm aims to best a record for bowling the most games in his age group during 24 hours. His record reference is the 1991 Guinness Book of World Records, in which 174 games were played in that time frame. He’s looking for sponsors — per pin, per game, per frame. He isn’t training because his bowling style of 50-some years is relaxed.

“I don’t try to hit the back of the wall,” Chisholm said and smiled. “I just let my arm swing naturally.”

He spent his working years as a third-shifter at a business forms manufacturer and says that’s why the bowl-a-thon will run from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday — and because he figures his birthday lasts 24 hours.

Chisholm said he knows many people consider ex-convicts the
dregs of society and don’t believe they deserve a second chance. But he says he’s made plenty of mistakes and has had more than one chance to make things right.

“The Lord has given me I don’t know how many second chances,” he said. “The least I can do is give someone who has served their time in prison a second chance.”

And so, he does.

Leads Friday study: Every Friday night he goes to York County Prison for Bible study. The inmates have three choices: outdoor recreation, canteen and the study. The majority opts out, but nearly three dozen do show up to study the Good Book.

Once they are released, he helps the guys in his program stay on the right track. He finds them shelter, assists with food and work and helps them out spiritually. To do that, though, he needs help.

He learned that during that trip to Miami Beach decades ago. He said he never knew how to float until that moment. He’d tried it before, but never managed. But once he heard that voice, he just followed directions — panic does that.

He rolled onto his back and let his arms dangle at his sides. Eventually, he floated ashore, where he says he knelt near a cabana to thank God for his life. While he did that, a young woman approached. She needed to talk, needed answers.

He balked at first, telling God he wasn’t a smart man, that he’d only graduated from high school.

“God said, ‘Just open your mouth,'” Chisholm said, recalling those days on the beach. “I couldn’t believe the wisdom that came out of my mouth.”

During the next several years he counseled people at church. Then friends told him the only name that kept coming up for a prison ministry was his. Then it made sense — that day on the beach, the young woman, years of counseling at church.

Chisholm went into the ministry fearless because, he says, he knew he wasn’t alone.

To those who ask him how he’ll bowl 24 hours straight, he says the same thing: “I’m not going to do it to by myself,” he said. “The Lord will be there.”

Gene Chisholm plans to celebrate his 83rd birthday with a 24-hour bowl-a-thon. He is leader of White Rose Council of the Yokefellowship Prison Ministry.

The bowl-a-thon is midnight Sunday to midnight Monday in Colony Park Lanes North at 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue in York City; the facility has donated use of two lanes for the event.

Chisholm aims to raise money for the nonprofit ministry and asks those interested in supporting him to sponsor a pin, frame or game. Pledge forms are available via e-mail to ksmith@ycchurches.org.

For additional information or to donate, contact the York County Council of Churches at 854-9504. All donations are tax deductible.

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