Bass Pro National Archery Hall of Fame to induct 4 Springfield men posthumously this weekend

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – On Saturday evening (May 21), the National Archery Hall of Fame, which found a permanent home in Springfield’s Bass Pro Shops in 2012, will hold its induction ceremony of the 50th anniversary.

And four Springfield men will be honored posthumously for their important roles in the archery industry.

Many people call them 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 artists, rubbing shoulders with Chet Atkins and Les Paul. The Wilson boys won national championships in team and individual archery competitions in the 1940s and 50s before starting their own Black Widow Custom Bow company which still exists, despite a few bumps in the road, 65 later in Nixa.

“The Wilson brothers were in fact among the first traditional archers and champions in their own right,” said Diane Miller, executive director of the National Archery Hall of Fame. “I shot a Wilson bow in the 1960s, 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 garnered by their exploits gave them a successful start in the business,” explained Ken Beck, who later took over Black Widow Custom Bows and reignited the brand’s popularity. “It was in 1957 that they started making laminated bows. They did this on the north side of Springfield, and they had an infestation of black widow spiders in the old chicken coop where they worked. So one of the wives suggested using the name “Black Widow,” and they did. And he became famous all over the world.

But the invention of the compound bow in the early 1970s caused business to dry up for traditional recurve makers like the Wilsons. The compound bow’s wheels and pulleys made them easier to shoot, aim and shoot, as recurve bow sales plummeted. The Wilsons have decided to retire.

“They threw in the towel and sold it to one of the young people who worked for them,” Beck said. “He failed to make it, so I got into it a few years later.”

Beck saw the potential of the traditional bow make a comeback and expanded the number of models in addition to improving performance. Beck’s investment in better materials, tools, and designs transformed the company as more people chose recurve bows over compound models.

“I would liken 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 Black Widow’s current home, an 8,000 square foot facility in Nixa, in 1995. In 2005, Beck retired and handed over the operation to three of his employees. Roger Fulton, Toby Essick and John Clayman are now carrying on the Wilson boys’ legacy by running a business with over $1 million in sales each year, shipping custom bows (costing over $1,000 each) to people of the whole world.

Their clientele ranges from famous country singers and athletes to everyday archery enthusiasts in China, Germany, France, England and Australia.

Bo Jackson is a regular customer of Black Widow Custom Bows. Yes, Bo knows bows.

“It’s kind of overwhelming for us here to realize that our bows are sold all over the world,” Fulton said. “I’ve been here 37 years, and that’s longer than the Wilson brothers owned Black Widow, so I feel a kinship with them. When someone calls and asks about an old bow the Wilson brothers made , I return to the handwritten recordings they made and which 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,” added Miller. “It’s been long overdue.”

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Earnest A. Martinez