A TYPICAL DAY IN FRED BEAR’S LIFE
Fred came to the office every day, right up until almost the final week of his life at the age of 86. And he came to work-not to just be there-often putting in 18-hour days in his early years, designing archery equipment and new production techniques. He also wrote his own hunting articles in his start-up years and shot his own movie footage of his hunts. Then he took the films to sportsmen’s groups and others to show them what a challenge and adventure they could have if they took up bowhunting. All that, while at the same time working hard each day trying to build and establish his struggling archery company in the isolated woods of northern Michigan where he had moved in 1947. I continue to be amazed by what this shy, gawky Pennsylvania farm boy was able to accomplish through sheer will and determination. His is truly a Lincolnesque story of achievement.
At first he and Mrs. Bear lived in a tent cabin out at what they called “Bear’s Bend” alongside the Manistee River west of Grayling. In the winter when the arctic winds swept down from Canada, they would rent a house in town. Finally, once Fred had the new Grayling plant up and running, they built a beautiful ranch style house behind the plant alongside the Au Sable River on the old logger’s pond that is known locally as the “Backwaters.” He would be in the office early, usually go home for lunch, then back to work. In the evenings he’d often walk back to his office/workshop and seek new answers to product ideas that he was exploring.
When we moved the plant to Florida in 1978, Fred continued much the same pattern, even though by now he was in his 70s. He loved to have coffee with his friends, so every morning at coffee break time I’d walk down and stick my head in his office and remind him that we were all going to the lunch room for our break. He was the boss and did not want to impose on those of us who worked for him, but he always loved to be a part of our day and our lives, so he’d usually wait to be invited. That’s when he’d catch up on whatever we were all doing or had done the night before. The people usually around the table in those days were Pat Wiseman, Donna Patton, sales manager Ray “Hap” Fling, Charlie Kroll, advertising assistant Bill McIntosh, and myself. Oh, if I had only been smart enough to have tape-recorded those coffee breaks to record the old man’s stories he loved to tell us!
FRED’S SIGNATURE BOWS
Fred’s day in his later years was usually taken up working on a new method of attaching our Weathers™ to arrow shafts or on some other project. Particularly close to his heart was the Limited Edition Fred Bear Signature Bow. He put a great deal of time, thought and love into that bow, and it has become a very valuable collector’s item. Fred personally signed and numbered each bow after he had inspected it with his extremely critical eye. And those who knew him can tell you that he was really tough on any imperfection he found, even the tiniest blemish on one of these Fred Bear Signature Bows.
One day, a year or so after his Signature Bow had made its debut, he called me to his office and told me that he had left something for me in the trunk of his Cougar out in the parking lot. I was to go out, transfer it to my trunk and not tell anyone that he had given it to me. He didn’t want his other friends at the plant to know that he was giving me his own prototype of the Fred Bear Signature Bow. It is marked “O1X,” in other words, Fred’s first experimental prototype of his Signature Bow. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I saw it and cherish that bow to this day.
Here’s a note that he put in with the Signature Bow. I’ve deleted the people’s names he mentions to prevent any embarrassment. I might add, that the second prototype to which he refers in the note could easily have been stolen from the exhibit. It had happened at least once before with one of his prototype bows. That one had been stolen from the Kent Bank in Grand Rapids. The bow had won honorable mention in the Michigan Manufacturer of the Year contest in 1966. It showed up six years later when it was taken into Ken Inglebritzen’s archery shop for a trade-in. Fred traded bows to Ken to get it back. He also gave that one to me for my growing collection. Here’s the note he put with the Signature Bow prototype #O1X:
In the beginning, I made two Signature bow prototypes. The cases were made of walnut left over from my office walls.
One of these sets I loaned to (someone) for display in an art show. He says he returned it, gave it to (someone-B) … I have never seen it.
Recently I have noticed you looking, rather covetingly, at the one here in my office.
With full knowledge that there are no more pieces of walnut, nor Brazilian Rosewood about, my move seems to be to give it to you before you steal it, which is what I hereby do.
Have fun, Fred
He had given me a Fred Bear take-down bow a couple of years earlier for Christmas with a note in it written on a Cape buffalo card saying that he hoped I, “could use this bow someday facing down one of these critters under a baobab tree” in Africa. And, on another occasion he walked into my office and placed one of his own left-handed Grizzly recurves on my desk for my collection. These bows will always have a special place in my heart and are kept away from my home at a secure location.
DINING WITH FRED
Quite often Fred would stay at the plant for lunch, and other times he and I would go down the street to a local restaurant. Sometimes others from the plant joined us. He loved fried clams and would always order a plate of them when they were on the menu. As I write this, my little Gulf fishing village that I now live in, Cedar Key, Florida, is the number one supplier of farm-raised clams from the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking of his food preferences, a funny thing happened when Fred and I were in New York in 1976 working with his Doubleday editor, Ferris Mack, on the final galleys of his “Fred Bear’s Field Notes” book. We were staying in a fancy hotel just off 5th Avenue around the corner from the Doubleday building. One evening at dinner he and I went into the hotel dining room, and I spotted liver and onions on the menu. My wife hated to fix them for me since she couldn’t stand the smell of the liver in the frying pan. When I told Fred that’s what I was going to order, he said he was going to do the same for the same reason. So we sat there in this fancy New York hotel eating liver and onions just as if we’d been in our kitchens back home, ignoring all the fancy offerings on the menu and enjoying every delicious minute of it with a cold glass of beer.
Most of the time, though, he carried a sack lunch to the office that Mrs. B would prepare for him. In his later years he’d always wait for me to come into his office to get him at noon before heading out to the lunchroom. Most of the same gang of people would sit with him at lunch as at coffee break, but often some others of his Bear Archery friends would sit with us. People like Anita Holle, Jackie Crews, Kathy McKewan, and others. Again, we’d usually be treated to some of his yarns and stories of the “good old days.” He very seldom ate the candy or cookies that Mrs. B would put in his brown bag, and usually pushed them over the table to one or the other of his friends to eat.
When we were on the road traveling together we’d usually have a beer before dinner, but even when we were guests in his home at a gathering of some kind, or in a bowhunting camp shooting the breeze with the guys, I never saw him have more than one.
NO SLOWING DOWN
If Fred didn’t go to lunch with us, then he’d drive home and have lunch with Mrs. Bear and take a short nap. Then it was back to work for the rest of the afternoon. In his later years, his lunch hours were often dictated by how much oxygen he had left in his portable oxygen tank that he had to wear constantly due to the emphysema he developed late in life. On those occasions he’d have to go home for lunch to replenish his tank. I still have a little note that he left on my desk one day when I was out of my office somewhere else in the plant-“Out of oxygen, going home for lunch.”
This business of keeping up a travel schedule while on the oxygen was a real challenge for Fred, but he sure didn’t let it keep him down or tied to the house. I can remember one trip when there was a sporting goods show in Atlanta when I drove him up there in his yellow Lincoln with a huge oxygen tank in the back seat. He had just read Lee Iococa’s biography, and had it with him and read me large parts of it on the drive. This was during a time when he was very upset with the direction the current management of Bear Archery was taking the company.
On that trip, as on some others, he and I roomed together just in case he developed a problem during the night, or had a stroke or other medical emergency. The public did not know how fragile Fred’s health was in his final years, and how he bravely covered it up in order to continue to meet his public. They gave him strength and propelled him.
He absolutely loved to talk to people; they energized him!
I was trained in CPR and prepared for any eventuality along those lines, but to tell the truth didn’t get much sleep on those trips. I always kept one ear open to make sure he was still breathing OK. So I felt a great deal of responsibility in the nights I spent in motel and hotel rooms with him on the road. Thank the Good Lord he never stopped breathing on my “watch.”
If we traveled by plane, the attendants were always very helpful with his oxygen supply. And, of course, travel oxygen bottles only hold a limited supply of oxygen and had to be replaced when we reached our destination.
Fred made light of his having to wear the oxygen those last few years, usually telling people with a twinkle in his eye that he really had Schnapp’s in his oxygen bottle and that it was his secret way of drinking on the job.
This man could have stayed at home, but, instead, he continued to live life to the fullest, and in doing so gave us all a lesson on how to conduct our final days. With hope, courage, dignity, and, above all, with humor. None of us gets out of this alive, you know. What a wonderful lesson he taught us all, I just hope I can remember it when my time has come.
TIME FOR ADMIRERS
Back in those days I always carried our Nikon F2 camera with me when traveling, for those folks who wanted a photo with Fred, and I was always careful to remind him to take the oxygen line off before we took the photo in case he forgot to do so, which wasn’t really very often. This reminds me of Joe Garino, the astronauts’ personal trainer in Houston. Whenever we were out with some of the astronauts at a sporting goods show or the like, Joe would quietly ease the cigarettes out of their hands when people wanted a photo with them since that was considered not to be the image NASA wanted to project with its astronauts in those Apollo-to-the-moon days. Incidentally, they had to give up all booze six months before they made a flight to the moon. Some of them did cheat and take a drink after that six-month cut-off deadline. Who among us would not love the occasional beer after a hard day’s training, when our butts and mission opportunities were on the line? I know I couldn’t have resisted.
Bowhunters were always calling Fred trying to talk him into speaking at various events, and outdoor writers were calling for interviews. Then, again, he might get on the phone and call his two other “sons,” Joe Engle in Houston, or Dick Mauch in Bassett. Frank Scott and I were handy there in the plant for him. Often I’d walk into the office, and he’d be talking to our old friend, Glenn St. Charles, another icon in our archery fraternity who had been a Bear Archery salesman in the old days and was the founder of the Pope & Young Club. And Ted Nugent would often call just to check in. Ted generally hunted with us for a few days at Grousehaven each fall and was a big Fred Bear fan. Fred respected what Ted had done with his life even through some very tragic times with the death of his first wife and the children she left behind for him to try to raise alone while still maintaining his crazy concert schedule around the country. When you were alone with Ted, he was a thoughtful, quiet friend, nothing like he was on stage.
I remember, in particular, one day when he came to town after Fred was gone and asked me if I’d take him over to pay his respects to Mrs. Bear. Ted was deeply touched by that visit. He always kept in touch with her by phone after that, and she really appreciated it. Often a mark of a man or woman is what they do out of the public eye when no one knows that they’re being caring or thoughtful. Ted Nugent fills that bill as far as I’m concerned. A wonderful guy.
I also tried to do the same, having a quiet lunch at the Bear home on Bivens Arm Lake with Mrs. B most Wednesdays when I was in town for many years after Fred was gone. Charlie Kroll, her son-in-law, who lived next door with Mrs. B’s daughter, Julia, would often join us, too. If you’ve ever wondered how Fred Bear stayed so slim, even in his later years when most of us put on weight and acquire a generous gut, you’d understand if you ever had lunch with Mrs. B. She made tiny, dainty sandwiches that usually involved water cress and a thin slice of cheese on wheat bread, and there was always a small cup of homemade soup and some fruit for dessert. If I ate like that everyday I’d have Fred Bear’s slim frame, too. But she and I enjoyed those quiet lunches together, and I always kept her up-to-speed on what all was happening at the plant and talked about old Grayling friends as well. Fred always sat in spirit at the empty chair at the small table with us as we enjoyed our lunches together. She was a wonderful lady and friend. And I miss her still.
Frank Scott would also often drop in to visit her on those occasions when he would have a reason to drive over to the house on Biven’s Arm. Sometimes he’d take some copies of the Fred Bear biography over for her to sign for people that had asked him to get them a copy. Other times he just popped in to let her know she wasn’t forgotten. I know she really appreciated all these visits; she was so lonely after we lost Fred. She died at the age of 96 on Jan. 10, 1997, about eight years after Fred died.
I said earlier that Fred always told me that you can take the measure of a man by how he acts in a hunting camp. Does he voluntarily do what needs to be done without being told to, or does he sit around waiting for others to wait on him or to do all the work? I’ve always felt that you could also take the measure of a person by how well he or she quietly looked after people and showed them love and concern when they were going through rough times. That’s when you know you have a true friend. Anyone can be a good friend during the good times. But it takes a special friend to reach out to others at the darkest moments of their lives and to give them comfort, even if it is only in sitting silently with them, holding their hand as they grieve. Words need not be spoken to be a comfort to our friends.
History on Videotape
But getting back to Fred’s typical day. When not on the phone in his office, Fred might be signing some of the many autographed photos or books that people were always sending him, or signing and sending out copies of Aldo Leopold’s book “The Sand County Almanac” that he thought so highly of and gave to his friends and new acquaintances to read.
Or, he and I might be planning out a video or film that we were going to be shooting. We spent a lot of time working on scripts, locations and camera angles together when we shot “Rural Route One, Grayling, Michigan,” our plant tour film up in Grayling. The same is true of “The Good Earth” that we filmed with astronaut Jim Lovell. Much thought and planning must go into things like this so when you finally have cameramen, gaffers (set electricians and lighting people), directors, and talent together the day of the shoot everything will go as smoothly and economically as possible.
As Fred grew older, I knew we needed to get him to talk on videotape about his early days. So we shot a series of those videotapes in his office with one of our local videographers, Todd Rainsburger, from TV-20 in Gainesville. Here are the videos that we shot during Fred’s last two years of his life … 1986-1988. As a historian, I consider these videotapes to be some of the most meaningful things that I produced during my two decades with Fred.
“History of Bear Archery-Part 1”: Fred reminisces about Bear Archery’s founding and his first 60 years in bowhunting. He talks about his early days in Detroit, the move to Grayling, and brings you up-to-date on where Bear Archery is today. A fascinating collection of never-before-told archery history.
“History of Bear Archery-Part 2”: Fred talks about the history of bows and arrows from prehistoric days to the present. How he developed the popular take-down bow; his important invention of fiberglass technology; and his own unique shooting style.
“History of Bear Archery-Part 3”: The history of the Bear Razorhead®, the Converta-Point Arrow®, and his invention of the Bow Quiver are recalled by Fred. Fred also spins an Alaskan hunting yarn.
“From the Ground Up-Part 1”: Fred and astronaut Joe Engle talk about their bowhunting trip to Alaska.
“From the Ground Up-Part 2”: Fred and astronaut Joe Engle talk about Joe’s X-15 and space shuttle flights.
Fred especially enjoyed working with Todd Rainsburger, since Todd was a true professional on both sides of the camera, as was Fred, and they related well together. Just a gentle hint of a camera angle needed, and Fred immediately supplied the shot. Same with the voice track. I can remember being amazed over the years when working on filming with Fred on how quick a grasp he had of dialogue, camera angles and lighting. For me a highlight was always when he was on camera with someone else who was also experienced in those areas, like Jim Lovell, Curt Gowdy or one of the Detroit Lions or Detroit Tigers. It was so much fun watching these professionals give the cameraman, director and producer (usually me) what we wanted quickly and without a lot of takes.
Fred the Chairman
Often during the day, Fred would have meetings with people from production on whatever project he was working on at the time, or with whomever was the president of Bear Archery at the time. In his later years he was given the title of chairman, even though Bear Archery didn’t have a board. Management met regularly to discuss projects, production output and problems, budgets, sales figures and the like, and Fred would sit in on those meetings when he was in town. He was always very involved when he did and always entered into the discussions no matter what the subject. I was always amazed at his keen grasp of just about anything about which we were talking. He saw things a lot more quickly than I did and was extremely sharp, even in his later years. I could see why he had been able to go from a shy Pennsylvania farmboy to a world-known celebrity and entrepreneur. He had not only created and made Bear Archery and much of the archery industry, but he had also created the legend known as Fred Bear. A public relations person like me who came along later in his life only built upon what he had already done. The Fred Bear “persona” was already finessed and polished by the time I came on the scene.
When I first started working for Fred, his private secretary was Lillian Hill, a small, slim lady who was always very pleasant and nice to work with, especially as I did in those first five years from a distance of hundreds of miles. She sat just outside his office door.
Once I went to work for the company full-time, Ms. Hill soon retired, and after awhile Shirley Bonamie left Bob Kelly in the sales department and took over as Fred’s administrative assistant. Shirley had joined the company just a couple of months before I started working for them. Then, when Kelly was moved up to become only the second president of the company after Fred stepped down, she served both men.
Shirley is one of the finest people with whom I’ve worked. She almost always has a smile on her face and in her voice. She knew just how to work with the different personalities of both Fred and Kelly and the people in the office and factory. Kelly had a low boiling point and would often turn red in his face when he wasn’t happy with someone or something. At those moments his lips would also turn white. He did not “suffer fools lightly” as the old saying goes. And it was not a good idea to be around him, especially if you were the reason for his unhappiness. Luckily, I was only in that position a couple of times in our many years of working together, most times we had a quiet father-son type relationship both inside and outside the office as I’ve mentioned before. But when Kelly talked, I always paid attention to what he said. Shirley knew just how to calm him down, as if gentling a fractious wild Irish stallion.
Fred, on the other hand, was slow to anger and seldom did. Almost never raising his voice. But he could be a stubborn old “Dutchman” sometimes with people in production or R&D, and I know they did not enjoy those times when he was insistent on doing things “his way.” As I said in the beginning, his father’s family was of English, German and Swiss extraction and his mother’s English and Dutch. Fred was very meticulous about everything he did. When he was a young man running his trap line back home in Pennsylvania he would even iron his dollar bills so they were in proper condition after he sold his hides. So when someone in production or R&D wanted to take a shortcut with which Fred didn’t agree, he would let them know in no uncertain terms. If you were called into his office and his brows were scrunched up together, you were in big trouble. Now on the other hand, if you could convince him you were right, then he was amenable to new suggestions and ideas. But you’d better have your facts right.
Here is a saying he had printed, up on his office wall, and that he gave out to some of his employees from time to time. I think this will help you understand the thoroughness that Papa Bear brought to his work every day:
THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO DO
A JOB, BUT THERE IS ONLY ONE
RIGHT WAY. EVERY PROBLEM
REQUIRES MUCH THOUGHT TO
INVESTIGATE EVERY POSSIBLE
APPROACH. THOSE WHO MAKE
QUICK DECISIONS AND PROCEED
ALONG THE LINES OF A FIRST
SOLUTION WILL ALMOST
ALWAYS FIND THAT THERE WAS
A BETTER WAY … FRED BEAR