National Archery Hall of Fame at Bass Pro to induct 4 Springfield men posthumously this weekend
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On Saturday night (May 21), the National Archery Hall of Fame, which found a permanent home at Springfield’s Bass Pro Shops in 2012, will hold its 50th-anniversary induction ceremony.
And four men from Springfield will be posthumously honored for their significant role in the archery industry.
Many people refer to them as the Wilson brothers, but brothers Jack, Norman, and Bob Wilson, along with their nephew Howard, made a name for themselves in archery. They all grew up in north Springfield, and some of them became musical entertainers, rubbing elbows with the likes of Chet Atkins and Les Paul. The Wilson boys won national championships in team and individual archery competitions in the 1940′s and 50′s before starting their own Black Widow Custom Bow company that’s still around, despite some bumps in the road, 65 years later in Nixa.
“The Wilson brothers were actually some of the first traditional archers and champions in their own right,” said Diane Miller, the Executive Director of the National Archery Hall of Fame. “I shot a Wilson bow back in the 1960′s, and we all loved them. I believe they make one of the most beautiful bows ever made. But I’m prejudiced because I have one!”
“The national attention from their exploits got them started successfully in the business,” explained Ken Beck, who took over Black Widow Custom Bows later and reignited the brand’s popularity. “It was in 1957 that they started building laminated bows. They did that on the north side of Springfield, and they had an infestation of black widow spiders in the old chicken house where they worked. So one of the wives suggested using the name ‘Black Widow,’ and they did. And it became famous around the world.”
But the invention of the compound bow at the start of the 1970′s caused business to dry up for makers of the traditional recurve bows as the Wilsons made. The compound bow’s wheels and pulleys made them easier to draw, aim and shoot, with sales of the recurve bow plummeting. The Wilsons decided to retire.
“They threw in the towel and sold it to one of the young fellas who worked for them,” Beck said. “He wasn’t able to succeed with it, so I got into it a few years later.”
Beck saw the potential in the traditional bow making a comeback and expanded the number of models in addition to improving performance. Beck’s investment in better materials, tools, and designs turned the company around as more and more people chose recurve bows over compound models.
“I would compare it to fishing,” Beck pointed out. “You can take a rod-and-reel and fish, but what do the purists want to do? They want to fly-fish. This is the fly-fishing of the archery world.”
Beck built the current home of Black Widow, an 8,000-square-foot facility in Nixa, in 1995. In 2005 Beck retired and turned the operation over to three of his employees. Roger Fulton, Toby Essick, and John Clayman now continue the Wilson boys’ legacy by running a company with over $1 million in sales every year, shipping custom-made bows (costing over $1,000 each) to people all over the globe.
Their customer base varies from celebrity country singers and athletes to everyday archery lovers in China, Germany, France, England, and Australia.
Bo Jackson is a repeat customer of Black Widow Custom Bows. Yes, Bo knows bows.
“It’s a little overwhelming for us here to realize that our bows are sold worldwide,” said Fulton. “I’ve been here 37 years, and that’s longer than the Wilson brothers owned Black Widow, so I feel a kinship to them. When somebody calls in and asks about an old bow the Wilson brothers made, I go back to the handwritten records they made that we still have.”
And now, the Wilson boys’ legacy will live on in the National Archery Hall of Fame.
“They deserve it,” Beck said. “They were way ahead of their time in terms of design.”
“They brought so much to the sport,” Miller added. “This is long overdue.”
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