When the pandemic first began to gain steam in the US just a few months ago, nobody could have imagined what life would look like now or how this precarious disease would affect us directly. For 80-year-old Elaine Brumberg, the virus affected every aspect of her life from her health to her business, but being dubbed the “Fairy Godmother of Bowling,” the PA native has a few tricks up her sleeve to persevere.
Elaine and her companion, David Singer, both contracted coronavirus after taking a trip to the Seychelles Islands, and Brumberg pins their layover in Athens, Greece as the cause of the contraction.
“For me, I had two and a half weeks [where] I couldn’t move. I was tired, I was so fatigued, I would try to get up and I just couldn’t do it. Then, I had a 103 fever and a cough and it lasted about a week. I was lucky because I’m older, I’m 80. People don’t realize how debilitating the virus is—I was lucky I wasn’t the one who had to go on the ventilator like he did, he got a much more severe case. 911 didn’t take him, then the next day I drove him to the hospital and they sent him home. The next day he couldn’t breathe,” recalls Brumberg.
The virus didn’t stop there. David did have to go back into the hospital after being released, and Elaine, who has made a full but slow recovery has been taking it day by day. According to her, her business is what has been able to keep her spirits up. Brumberg is the owner of Thunderbird Lanes in Warminster, but owning a bowling alley was not always on the cards for the 80-year-old business owner. After growing up through a “rough” childhood, dealing with antisemitism, and having her mother commit suicide at the age of 49, Brumberg set her sights on living a life of success.
That drive led to a slew of ventures including writing three books, becoming a best selling author, writing articles for national magazines and embarking on a career as a make-up artist. Eventually, Brumberg got into the bowling business with her late husband Norman and his five centers.
“When I started writing books and with Norman’s encouragement, I [became] a different person. Because of what I went through, if you would have asked me what my name was I would have put my head down and said it. Now, this other person has emerged who’s confident,” says Brumberg.
Once Norman passed and sold all of the centers, the Fairy Godmother of Bowling decided to buy and re-vamp the location in Warminster in her late husband’s honor and ultimately make Thunderbird Lane’s mission to “make everyone feel like family.”
“Now that I’m back involved in the business, it’s taken away a lot of the stress,” says Brumberg. “Most people are not only stressed, but they’re slightly depressed. We can’t see our families—I have family in Colorado and children in Massachusetts and we can’t [see them], and you’re afraid to see your friends. [But] I probably have the most dedicated staff in the world. I just treat them like family.”
That familial ideology motivated Brumberg to also amp up Thunderbird Lanes’ special needs programming. Typically the center has 32 lanes for their special needs program every Saturday morning, but with COVID-19 still in full swing, that program has been put on hold until January. However, it was after she got involved working with sick and special needs kids because of her friend Jen Su’s son Michael, who was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, that Brumberg earned her nickname. “The Fairy Godmother of Bowling” began to visit different hospitals with her traveling dinosaur bowling alley to help bring up their spirits.
“This lightbulb went into my head, and I said oh my god—these children can’t come to me, I’m going to go to them,” says Brumberg. “I miss going to the hospital with the children. I am now the Fairy Godmother of Bowling, and I miss that the most—I miss seeing the smiles that I bring to children’s faces and to parent’s faces who hug me and thank me because they know that their child might not make it. For me, that’s what I miss in my life.”
Currently, Thunderbird Lanes is open with a ton of safety precautions being taken. For, Brumberg, having personally dealt with the virus herself, keeping everyone safe is the top priority.
“I have to tell you, that bowling center is cleaner than my home,” says Brumberg. “People need to realize how this virus can affect your life.”
Aside from owning Thunderbird lanes and donning a Fairy Godmother outfit, out of all of the colorful accolades and shining achievements, what Brumberg wants to be remembered by the most is for her kindness.
“We only have one life to live, and I want to be known especially for my kindness,” says Brumberg. “Not what I am, or what I look like. It isn’t what you look like, it comes from the inside of your heart and what you will do if a friend is in need. I want to be remembered as doing the best I could do to help others in life.”
To learn more information on Elaine Brumberg and Thunderbird Lanes, visit phillybowl.com