Joe Santini Sr.'s “15 minutes of fame” was more like 30 minutes in television time, but for those living in Lockport's prominently-Italian “West End,” it translated into a lifetime of respect and admiration.
Most of us still didn't have color television sets when Joe first appeared on the famed local bowling program, “Beat the Champ.” Up through that time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Santini's name was a common one in Union-Sun & Journal sports headlines as one of the best bowlers in a city where bowling was king.
Lockport featured several nationally-known greats during this memorable era, including the legendary Allie Brandt, who held the world record for the highest bowling set in history — an 886, for half a century (Brandt rolled single games of 297, 289 and 300 in 1939 at Allen's Alleys in downtown Lockport).
Allie Brandt Bowling Lanes on Lincoln Avenue was about a decade old and Santini Sr. was one of several “protégés” of the late Mr. Brandt by the time he qualified for the popular weekend TV show that appeared on Channel 4 (WBEN at the time, today it's WIVB).
The show's host was a name synonymous with Buffalo sports broadcasting, Hall of Famer Chuck Healy, who gave the program a family-oriented feel and whose good humor and wit helped make the show one of the longest running in local history.
Tim Kirsch of the LBA noted that Santini Sr. was one of the first Lockport bowlers to appear on Beat the Champ. Others soon followed, including fellow Lockportian Carl Kinyon, who broke the show's record for most consecutive appearances.
I remember my brother, Joe, and I sitting in front of the TV, hoping Mr. Santini would pull out a victory, mesmerized by the sight of him on the screen — our neighbor, one of my brother's best friend's dad, the guy I saw sitting around our dinner table with his beautiful wife and some fellow Lockport paesanos the day before — standing there on TV talking to the legendary Healy.
Young people today just can't fathom the limited amount of TV there was back then (just like my generation couldn't fathom life without TV). There was no cable, of course, and maybe three channels that came in clear, on a good day, but on this special day, Joe appeared on one of them bigger than life.
And as if he was made for this moment, Santini fit the mold as well, a good-looking, slender, stoic man with a chiseled face. He was star material who carried himself with quiet dignity long before and long after his TV appearance, but on this unforgettable day he made us all proud to be Lockportians, especially Italian-American ones.
Much more than just an avid bowler who learned the finer points of the sport from Mr. Brandt, the Lockport Bowling Association Hall of Famer Santini, who passed away at 88 on Jan. 3. held the highest three-game total in the LBA for 15 years.
Kirsch noted that Santini Sr. captured several city bowling championships over the years including the scratch doubles championship (with Tony Parete) in 1974.
Even in his later years, he was still amazing, bowling a 300 (perfect) game and 804 series at the age of 71.
And while Mr. Santini will be missed as one Lockport's bowling greats, he's also going to be missed (along with his late wife), by their four sons, Michael, Anthony and those rambunctious twins, Joe Jr. and Rick. Anthony, the youngest son, is a fellow LBA Hall of Famer and Beat the Champ winner.
He's also going to be missed by his eight grandchildren, Nicholas, Elise, Jennifer (Doug) Parker, Veronica, Christopher, Joseph, Gianna and Julia; and five step-grandchildren, Mathew, Hans, Timothy (Holly), Laura (Bill) and Andrew; and step-great-grandchild, Vincent.
Santini Sr. found success in both love and life, having traveled halfway around the world to find Lockport — the place he'd call home until his death last week.
Not bad for a determined young man who immigrated to America from Casalbordino, Italy, as a teenager in 1946.
Follow veteran US&J sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.