Introduction to: ‘I Remember Papa Bear‘
Fred Bear was the best-known hunter and outdoorsman of the second half of the 20th century, and I was devastated when he died, and remain so to this day. He was my best friend, mentor and father figure for several decades. He was kind to me in so very many ways over the years—gentle in his criticism of my writing and ideas, supportive of my advertising/sales promotion strategy for our products, and, without saying anything, he took over my dad’s place in my life when Dad suddenly died of pancreatic cancer. He had done the same for Frank Scott when his father died, former astronaut Gen. Joe Henry Engle when his father passed away, and Dick Mauch when his dad died. We four became the “Adopted Sons of Fred Bear” and still remain close, although we suddenly lost our oldest “brother,” Frank Scott, recently. Scotty, Joe and I did the eulogies at Fred’s funeral.
Following Fred’s death, Mrs. Bear and her daughter, Julia Kroll, asked me to take his ashes up to the Grayling, Michigan area where we had lived before moving to Florida in 1978. They requested that I place Fred’s ashes alongside his beloved Au Sable River where he had so often fished. Flyfishing was his second passion, next to bowhunting. And he and I had often flyfished there together over the years, as had some of his other friends at the old Bear Archery. Fred loved to see a brown trout rise to his caddis fly. It was the water equivalent of hunting with the bow and arrow. I’ll tell you more about that poignant day later in this book.
Knowing of my close association with Fred, numerous people over the ensuing years have asked me when I would write a book about Fred and my years with him. I’d declined to do so for many years, fearing that it would seem to be self-serving since so much of my own life would have to be included in the book in order to recount those years that I worked with him between 1966 and 1988 when he died.
Recently, however, Jeff Waring, an editor at Bowhunter magazine, reminded me that the current generation of new hunters really didn’t know Fred’s story. Jeff suggested that I’d be helping to keep his memory alive by putting my memories down. I still wavered.
Then my old friend, Sherwood Schoch, former Bear Archery salesman and the first salesman for compound bows for Tom Jennings, wrote to me. Here’s what Sherwood had to say: “You expressed a fear that you may be putting too much of yourself into the book on Fred. I said then and I will say now, I don’t think you could put too much of yourself into it. You were there, you are the authority, only you know what took place. Anything less than that might take credibility away from the information. You are the only living truth on the subject and you need to express it from that point of view.”
So, if there is too much of Dick Lattimer in this book, I apologize, but it was the only way I could tell the story of the tremendous influence Fred Bear had on conservation, hunting and the outdoor life during the second half of the 20th century. I was his alter ego in those days. I went where he sent me and championed the causes that he felt were important.
And, of course, you need to read the Fred Bear biography that Charlie Kroll and I produced back in the 1980s, along with the “Fred Bear’s Field Notes” book that I also helped Fred produce. There you’ll find the stories of many of Fred’s famous hunts and adventures around the world. In this book you’ll learn more about what Fred’s life was like when he was out of the spotlight; when he wasn’t in front of a camera or on a national radio or television show. You’ll learn about the first promotional years of his archery life and the last 20 years of his life—his triumphs, his frustrations, his heartbreak and a lot about his everyday life that is not found in the other books we did in those days.
Knowing my own frustration with the sudden and unexpected death of Frank Scott, I decided to take a chance and offer you these pages. “Scotty,” as most of us knew him by, was the director of the Fred Bear Museum, following a long career as a Bear Archery salesman—the first Fred ever hired in 1939.
After I retired in 2000 from running AMO, the archery trade association, Scotty wanted me to become more involved with the Fred Bear Museum as I had been in the past. He was ready to scale back. So it was that he and I talked on a Monday evening about getting together Tuesday noon for lunch to talk more about it. I told him I’d see him the next day, and he replied, “It’s a deal!” Shortly after he hung up the phone that evening he took ill. By Friday he was dead. All the rich memories of Bear Archery, Fred Bear and our sport of archery that he carried inside him died with him. I had been bugging him for almost 20 years to put it all down on paper. Now I wish I had just taken over the job and twisted his arm to work with me on it. But I didn’t.
So I feel that it is my duty to Fred Bear’s memory, to Frank Scott’s, to Bob Kelly’s, and to our family of millions of bowhunters, recreational archers and firearms hunters around the world who have heard of Fred Bear, but don’t know that much about him, and to those who may someday decide to take up our ancient and honorable sports, to write this book.
Fred and I were especially fond of Teddy Roosevelt and that for which he stood. “The
Roughrider” once said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things … even though checkered with failure, than to … live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Both Fred and I lived our lives with that admonition in mind, and I hope you are, too. Do not take your dreams to your grave!
Any errors that you find here are mine and mine alone, and I accept full responsibility. Memories fade, so do dates, people and events. But I have tried to be as accurate as possible about what you will learn and have checked with others of the old Bear Archery family countless times while working on this book about what is in these pages. I hope you enjoy the book and that you feel like you know our Papa Bear better when you have read the final page. He was quite a gentle man.
Cedar Key, Florida