KERSEY — Jireh Lanes, located across from the Corner Market on Main Street in Kersey, was once a paint factory and dumping ground for waste from coal mining activity. But, Harold Beimel bought the land in 1985 with the dream turning the rock dump into a bowling alley.
Beimel cleared the lot and bought a steel building from local contractor Carl Keech, and his dream began to take shape. He was there every day helping to erect the building, as were some of his brothers. Beimel’s wife, Sara Jane, named their business Jireh Lanes, from “Jehovah Jireh,” which means “The Lord Our Provider.” Bowlers were able to buy hamburgers, hot dogs and hot sausages that Sara Jane prepared in the small kitchen in the front of the building, and she also did the bookkeeping.
Beimel recalls struggling during the first few years after opening the business.
“It was chaos starting out! It was terrible, but it gradually came around,” he said.
He hired his son and his nieces and nephews, and they earned a dollar an hour and were happy to have the job. One of the perks of the job was that they could bowl for free any time there was an empty lane. All of them became excellent bowlers, he said. Jireh Lanes was open year-round, and the customer base began to grow.
“I loved what I was doing, and I enjoyed interacting with my customers and treating them right,” said Beimel.
Beimel had always had a keen interest in bowling, and as a young lad, he had first bowled with his friends in the lanes located in the basement of the Sacred Heart School. Later he bowled in Weedville, and as a teenager, worked at Olympic Lanes, but continued to practice whenever he got the chance. As one of nine boys in his family, he worked at various jobs from a young age. He recalls picking blackberries and blueberries and selling them and mowing lawns to get enough money to ride the bus to Belvedere to roller skate. Beimel’s first business venture was owning the Esso station that was located at what the locals call “The Crossing” in Kersey.
In the 37 years that Jireh Lanes has been in operation, Beimel has made several upgrades of which he is justly proud. He remodeled all the lanes, updated the bowling machines, switched from hand scoring to computerized scoring systems, installed a bar, and rebuilt the kitchen by adding the pizza shop with delivery available. With family members grown and on their own now, he has had to hire other workers and noted that they seem to like coming to work. Beimel takes pride in treating his workers well and maintaining a pleasant work environment.
One of the most significant changes he made was to raise the floor, eliminating steps and making the entire bowling experience handicapped accessible. Beimel first tried to accommodate children with handicaps by building ramps on certain lanes but later decided to redo all the lanes and has been rewarded with the smiles of those who can now enter the building and approach any lane in their wheelchair and start to bowl. Beimel smiles as he talks about a group of people with various handicaps who come up from Clarion every Saturday, so they can enjoy two hours of bowling.
“From one week to the next, they can’t wait to come. Those kids are just great! I make sure they have pizza for the ride back,” he says.
Jireh Lanes has also been marketing their own brand of spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce for the past few years. Beimel’s son, Hal, who is the current owner of the business, explained that his mom made great food for the bowlers, including homemade spaghetti and pizza sauce, and that’s how “Jireh Sauce” was born. In the beginning, the sauce was taken to a cannery in Punxsutawney for processing, but more recently, a processing machine was purchased, and sauce is made in their own kitchen every week. It is distributed to stores in Kersey, Ridgway, Brockway and Johnsonburg, and that keeps them as busy as they want to be. Everything is FDA inspected and approved.
Beimel smiles as he tells of one man who came in claiming, “My wife makes the best spaghetti sauce there is. And I said if your wife makes the best, that’s great. But if she doesn’t have time to make the best, take the second best, my Jireh Sauce, off the shelf and have spaghetti dinner faster, with no waiting!”
At the age of 80, Beimel is looking to retire, but admits he’ll continue to come in every week to make the spaghetti sauce and the pizza sauce. When asked if, in hindsight, he’d do anything differently, he replied confidently that he wouldn’t change a thing, that the many people he has met through the business have been great, and he has no regrets.
Beimel sums it up by saying, “Everyone has been good to me, and I try to treat everyone well too.”