“Someday I am going to hold my head high and proudly say I am a Jewish woman.”
That’s what 80-year-old Elaine Brumberg, now known as the “Fairy Godmother of Bowling,” said to herself as a child.
Brumberg went to school near Pittsburgh, the only Jew in a class of 350 students. She was bullied and socially ostracized.
“I had very few friends because their parents would not let them associate with a Jewish girl,” she said. “When I was 15, I had a guidance counselor who pulled me by my hair and called me a ‘Jew bitch.’”
The anti-Semitism she faced became a driving force in her career. “I was determined to be successful; I didn’t want to be just anyone,” she said.
After doing some modeling, she became a makeup artist. But after being fired from a job for being honest with a customer about harmful ingredients in a beauty product, she decided to pursue her passion on her own.
“I remember my husband Norman saying, ‘When you’re 50 I don’t want you to turn around and say I would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.’ And those were the best words he could have ever said to me,” she said.
Brumberg used her knowledge of the industry to teach, write books and become a magazine and newspaper columnist.
But all of that changed after her husband, Norman, died, in 2011. At the time, he owned five different bowling centers, four of which were sold. A few years later, Brumberg decided she wanted to run the fifth bowling alley, Thunderbird Lanes in Warminster, and continue her late husband’s legacy. Her children wrote her a letter urging her to reconsider.
“They said, ‘You’re not going to do this, Mom. You’re crazy,’” she said.
But at 78, she made the move — becoming the owner of Thunderbird Lanes.
As an older woman in a male-dominated world, she faced criticism. To prove she was just as qualified her male counterparts, she made it her mission to get on the cover of International Bowling Industry Magazine. And it worked: She appeared in full Fairy Godmother dress on the cover of the July 2020 issue.
The main purpose of her Fairy Godmother persona, though, isn’t business-related. It’s about making wishes come true for sick people. She packs up her portable bowling pin set and heads to hospitals in full Fairy Godmother regalia. The project was inspired by her friend’s son who had leukemia and wasn’t expected to live for more than 48 hours. Miraculously, he survived.
“After this, there was a light-bulb moment in my head,” Brumberg said.
Now she’s had her own experience of close calls and illness.
Both Brumberg and her fiancé, David Singer, battled the coronavirus in early spring. Brumberg considers herself lucky, as she had few symptoms. Singer had a more severe case.
“After a few days in the hospital, they called me and said they didn’t know if he would make it or not,” she said.
Singer was on a ventilator for 14 days before transferring to rehab. He is still dealing with a variety of health complications.
After seeing the horrors of COVID-19 firsthand, Brumberg understands the importance of staying safe. Now Thunderbird Lanes has extra sanitization after each use of balls, shoes and lanes, as well as temperature checks and facial shields for employees.
“The bowling center is cleaner than my house,” she said.
Despite the uncertainty, the Fairy Godmother is optimistic, and can’t wait to get back to visiting hospitals: “I hope I live long enough that I can take my magic wand and bring back smiles to all those children’s faces.”