“Big Jim” Wangeman – a love story

Press file photo

Jim and Anne Wangeman pose for the camera in 2010, when Jim accepted honors as Small Business Owner of the Year by Assembly District 15 and the California Small Business Association.

This is the second of a two-part series about Jim Wangeman, the founder of Harvest Park Bowl. 

Sometimes, opportunities and situations guide us to unexpected paths, and such is the story of “Big Jim” Wangeman.

By 1968, Jim was working full time at PG&E and part-time at San Jose Fiesta Bowl. The bowling alley was meant to be a part-time job to help with family expenditures, but Jim is always exceptional in everything he undertakes, and management noticed.

When the night deskman was fired, Jim was immediately promoted. What started as a weekend, part-time job soon grew to a full-time position. For five years, Jim held two full-time jobs, often coming home at 2 a.m. and waking up to his day position at 6:30 a.m.  

The schedule, life’s demands and changing views on life took their toll on Jim and his wife. In 1973, they divorced. Jim still worked hard to provide for his family, but he also wanted more time with his children. Something had to change.

By this point, Anne had also come into his world. She was a hard-working single woman with four children of her own.  

When the general manager of the bowling alley unexpectedly died, corporate office wanted him to take the position. Jim knew what the salary was — and he couldn’t give up PG&E for what it paid. When the offer was made, he said, “You can’t afford me.”

Jim let corporate know of his PG&E position and they responded by offering to pay the salary of both full-time positions, with bonuses. Unsure whether he should leave the security of PG&E and take this risk, he asked Anne.

 “You are more talented than you think,” she told him. “You should take this risk.”

From this point forward, Anne became his best friend, mentor and partner — the love of his life. Though it was difficult to unite their eight children in this relationship, Anne and Jim married in 1975, blending as one big “Brady Family.”

As the years passed, Jim continued to move up the ranks to become the district manager of four bowling alleys in San Jose, eventually overseeing 11 bowling centers as regional manager.

In 1987, Just Games, a video games company based in San Diego, tried to recruit Jim. Though San Diego was enticing, the president of his current company wouldn’t hear of Jim leaving. With some reorganization, Jim was given an easier load and a substantial raise to stay.

Then Jim and Anne found Discovery Bay and thought it was a perfect place to live. If they were not to move to San Diego, Discovery Bay was an excellent trade-off with its golf and waterways. Though Jim still had to commute to San Jose, he loved his new world and his new Hoffman home — and what a perfect community to bring in bowling.

In 1992, Jim approached the president of his corporation about building bowling alley in East County, specifically Brentwood. After much speculation and review, the company decided the community was not large enough to support a bowling center. 

Instead, the company bought Just Games out of San Diego, set up headquarters in San Jose and put Jim in charge. In 1993, Jim headed the game division of the bowling centers, but he still had to contend with the long commute to San Jose.  

In May 1993, after 25 years in the industry, Jim retired from his company, but Jim would not truly retire.

He researched the feasibility of a bowling center in Brentwood and purchased 2.4 acres on its outskirts for $553,000. As a visionary, this seemed to be a great start to his dream. He knew it would take a lot more money to bring his dream to fruition, and solicited partners, loans and purchases of all that comes into creating a bowling center. He even went to Mobile, Alabama, to purchase the lanes used in the National Tournament of 1994. However, he was still short on cash to finalize his dream.

Then, he recollected his experiences running the video sector of the bowling centers. He reached out to Video Game Company to advance the remaining money, who could profit from putting video games in the bowling center. In December 1994, Harvest Park Bowl opened its doors for business.

Jim Wangeman and Harvest Park Bowl mean so much more to East County than just an established business. The first year of operation, Jim and Anne ran the center with no employees. He was able to hire Sherry Mackenzie as a desk clerk after about two years.

Sherry quickly took on more responsibilities and is now general manager. Jim believes he could not have made Harvest Park Bowl a success without Anne and Sherry.

Today, Harvest Park Bowl is a highly respected business that has given thousands of dollars to charities. It has funded over $350,000 in scholarships to students and even provided a full ride to Wichita State for one bowler who went All-American. Harvest Park Bowl has put Brentwood on the map for several bowling competitions that have been nationally televised, including the 20th year Senior Bowling Tour.

Jim has also been a star community leader. He helped begin the Police Activities League (PAL), was a president of the Rotary Club and has run a business with a payroll of more than $1 million.

But none of this would have happened if not for the love, devotion and faith Anne gave Jim to strive and fly to reach his dreams.

“I feel blessed,” Jim said.

He is blessed — because this is a man with many lives, who united with the ideal soul mate. Together they have eight children, 20 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. For 45 years, they lived their love story.

Anne died last year, and hundreds of people came to the bowling center to pay their respects to Anne and to Jim. 

Happy 25th anniversary, Harvest Park Bowl, and thank you, Jim Wangeman, for enriching our county and our city. We are better because you chose us to share your dream.

Everyone has a story. Contact Christina Dalton at rroberts@brentwoodpress.com to share yours.