LifestyleBlack History Month


From the bowling lane to memory lane: Remembering Earlene Fuller

Bowling and sewing may not seem like they go together. But for Earlene Fuller, they were a perfect match.
Posted at 10:53 AM, Feb 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-16 19:29:12-05

MILWAUKEE — Bowling and sewing may not seem like they go together, but for Earlene Fuller, they were a perfect match. The Milwaukee champion bowler was also a designer and some of her work is now being featured by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

"She said 'when you look good, you feel good, you bowl good.' She was right," said Nona Chapman on Earlene.

Earlene and Nona were doubles bowling partners. They spent time as a team, competing around Wisconsin.

"She introduced me to the Milwaukee Bowlers Guild. She said, 'get into that, you bowl with better bowlers, you'll become a better bowler yourself,'" Nona recalls.

Earlene joined the Milwaukee Bowlers Guild in the 1960s.

"The reason why the Milwaukee Bowlers Guild was born is because African-American men and women were not allowed or could not compete in various tournaments or leagues for that matter," Nona said.

"In the 60s, Black bowlers would go to a tournament, and they couldn't go through the front door, they'd have to go around to the back door," said Wayde Broughton, Historian for The National Bowling Association.

Earlene was also a long-time member of The National Bowling Association. Throughout her bowling career, Earlene won multiple bowling championships, and in 1983, she shattered the glass ceiling. 

"She was the first woman, particularly African-American woman, to bowl a 300 in the state of Wisconsin," said Broughton.

Earlene Fuller

In the 1980s, Earlene was one of only a few African Americans to play in the Milwaukee Coors All-Star League. But she didn't just complete, she was also the team's official seamstress. 

"Everywhere we went we got a compliment. 'Who made y'alls uniforms? Where'd you get your uniforms from?'" Nona said.

Earlene's handiwork could be seen nationally and internationally, including uniforms she made for the Swiss National Bowling Team.

In the 1990s, Earlene began incorporating Kente Cloth into her bowling uniforms.

"When she did that, it just took off," Nona remembers.


Some of Earlene's uniforms are on display through the Wisconsin Historical Society. Her trademark is a little ladybug. Every once in a while, Earlene's uniforms can still be seen at a local bowling alley.

"Some of the girls still have her uniforms, and some of them can still wear them, and you say, 'FULLER,' everybody knows," said Nona.

Earlene passed away in January of 2008, but her memory and her legacy live on.

"Any bowler, especially African-American bowlers, should be proud of her," Nona said.

In addition to being an accomplished bowler and seamstress, Earlene worked with students at Lincoln High School in their occupational training program and taught clothing fabrication at MATC. Earlene was inducted into the Milwaukee Women's Bowling Association Hall of Fame in 1992.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip