A Collection of Memories: Ben Pearson, Jr., Ann Clark, Debbie Ohl, Keith de Noble and Jerry Amster
In Springfield, Missouri, on September 3, 2016, at Bass Pro’s fabulous White River Conference Center, the Archery Hall of Fame inducted Darrell Pace (1976 & 1984 Gold Medalist), John Williams (1972 Olympic Gold Medal Winner), Randy Ulmer (IBO and FITA World Champion) and Jack Witt (Archery promoter and writer). Staunch American Patriot, Bowhunter and Rock ‘n’ Roller, Ted Nugent, was honored by receiving the Dave Staples Golden Arrow Award of Merit. Dick Mauch (long-time close friend and hunting companion of Fred Bear) received the AHOF Icon Award for more than 60 years of dedication to the sport of Archery
If you were not there, you missed an extraordinary occasion. I encourage you to make plans to attend next year. You will not be disappointed, especially if it bears any resemblance to this year’s event.
The September 3, 2016, AHOF induction banquet and related activities were indeed phenomenal and it is a pleasure to know that my good friend, and my late father’s very close friend and associate, the late Jack Preston Witt, was honored alongside his fellow inductees. It was a treasured moment for me to accept Jack, posthumously, into the Archery Hall of Fame and share this extraordinary event with many of Jack’s friends and my wife and children. Among those of his friends attending were Keith and Edna de Noble, my wife Paulette, Ron and Janelle Powell, Travis and Brenda Maynard, and the Goddess of Archery, Ann Clark, and many in Ann’s extended family.
In his youth, Ron Powell spent countless hours traveling with Jack to archery events across the country- Ron is a former President of Ben Pearson Archery. Janelle, Ron’s wife, was a recipient of Jacks archery instruction along with her fellow Girl Scouts. Her troop scored high at a major Scout Jamboree in Colorado in the early 60’s thanks to Jack.
Keith de Noble, a former Arkansas Bowhunter Association President, made an excellent presentation for Jack’s induction. It is thru Keith de Noble’s efforts that Jack’s enormous contributions to Archery were relayed to the AHOF for consideration of Jacks induction.
I had known Jack since I was a toddler and, as a youngster, perhaps knew Jack as someone who worked and traveled with my dad, and who was the big bald-headed man who wore funny white-topped shoes, smoked a pipe, and always captivated your attention with his deep baritone voice.
Jack’s entry into the world of archery began by happenstance. After serving in World War II, Jack worked in marketing for Coca-Cola Co. but desired to change gears. In 1956 he placed an ad in “The Wall Street Journal.” Carl Haun, then president and co-founder of Ben Pearson Inc. since 1938, answered his ad and invited Jack to Pine Bluff for an interview which was remembered by Jack as follows:
“What do you know about archery?” Carl asked. I told him “Nothing.” Carl said, “How do you think I can hire you to talk about archery when you don’t know anything about it?” I asked him if he had anyone who knew archery. Carl said “Sure.” I said, “It looks to me that you can either teach me archery or teach them sales promotion.”
Jack was hired and immediately started shooting a bow and learning the archery business. By the fall of 1958, he had become Arkansas State champion of the “Barebow” (instinctive division) and acquired an acute knowledge of the industry.
Jack traveled the country to promote archery at various sporting good shows, youth and scout organizations, tournaments and often performed exhibitions and promotions with my Dad, Ben Pearson. Jack headed the newly created “Golden Sovereign” division of Ben Pearson Archery and became director of special events like the Ben Pearson Open. This was no small task since The Ben Pearson Open was (for a decade) the Largest Indoor Participating Sporting Event in the World.
Jack was a premier instructor. He carefully observed and conferred with many of the top archers including Dad, Howard Hill, Ann Clark, Ann Marston, Jim Caspers, Bob Kadlec, Bob Rhode, James Mackey, Margaret Tillberry and many others. From them he acquired a broad base knowledge of archery skills and techniques that he conveyed to others via his archery columns and in person to interested groups or individuals. If you were a top professional, had developed a bad habit and consulted Jack for a solution—there was no doubt your problems were soon mended. Jack was truly “The Archer’s Friend.”
There were many changes to the Ben Pearson Company within a year after being sold to “Leisure Group” (a conglomerate company) in the 1966/early 1967 time frame. Many stalwart Ben Pearson personnel were no longer present. Jack was among them.
In 1968, Jack purchased the Ben Pearson “Archery Center” facility located in Whitehall, AR, and moved it to his home town of Little Rock. Soon thereafter, dad and I put on an archery demonstration to help publicize his new location. Not long after this, dad’s health began to deteriorate with minor heart and diabetes issues but the onslaught of osteoarthritis was dad’s real nemesis. The following letter from Jack to dad was during this time when dad was hospitalized for treatment:
Mr. Ben Pearson October 21, 1969
Levy Hospital – Room 403 – Hot Springs, Arkansas
I heard you were in the hospital. In fact the day after you left Pine Bluff, I went by the Jefferson Hospital and they told me you had checked out the day before. I went by your house and the gates were locked. I didn’t find out until a week later where you were. I saw Gerry Powell and he told me. Since then I have checked with him. Tonight Jack Atkins called and was asking me what aluminum arrows flew in his weight bow etc. and he told me how I could write you.
How long do you think you will be there? And when do you think you will be back in Pine Bluff?
Let me know as I’d like to see you. And too, a lot of your friends come by and they all ask about you.
Ben, I’ve had many enjoyable hours with you. At times I think I made you so mad you could bite nails, but five minutes later you would come around and say “Let’s get a coke or coffee.” And you can’t help loving a guy like that. I don’t think you ever held a grudge against anyone.
Fact is I don’t think you’ve realized just how many friends you have. Which reminds me—Bo Graft gets in to see me every few months and has ordered several things via telephone. It usually takes him months to get around to paying. But I drop him a hot note and always get a check. You could never tell by looking or listening to Bo whether he had a dime or not, and still can’t. I think however, that Bo lost everything. You may know the story, but I ‘d never ask Bo.
Jimmie Doc gets by occasionally. Haven’t seen Horace Marvin in some time. Horace now has a really big job. Bill Clements gets by every few days and said if I wrote you to give his regards.
If I know you—and I think I know Ben Pearson about as well as anyone—you’ll shake this off and be back and around. And this means by the Archery Center. So do take care of yourself. Give Mary, Little Mary, Little Ben and Rena my best.
After dad passed away in March of 1971, I would stop by to see Jack at every opportunity when passing through Little Rock. On one visit Jack requested that I provide him with something dad had personally made, so he could place it on display. I brought him a handle of a prototype three-piece take-down Bushmaster. It was a steel handle covered by two joining pieces of walnut that Dad personally sculpted into a bow riser to fit over the structural steel component. I know of only four other handles that were made in this manner. One of these he used to bag his polar bear and grizzly bear. To dad’s chagrin, this three-piece prototype version of the Bushmaster never made it to production.
It was always a treat to visit Jack, his faithful associate (Mrs. Lois McMillan) and dog, Heidi, and most anyone who visited Jack’s Archery Center felt the same. Many Arkansans have fond memories of Jack. Byron House (who narrowly missed Qualifying for the Olympics), Travis Maynard (who has won numerous state titles, a world title and was highly ranked nationally in the instinctive division), Travis’ brother, Rayburn (twice Arkansas Bowhunter of the Year), and Keith de Noble, (a former Arkansas Bowhunter Association President) were common visitors to the Archery Center in their younger days and recipients of Jack’s guidance. Roger Maynard (Travis and Rayburn’s father) penned two widely distributed publications on Bow hunting and was the first President of the Arkansas Bowhunters Association. He undoubtedly worked closely with his good buddy “Jack” to help create the Association.
My sisters, Mary and Rena, expressed that Jack was like a second father. A predictive sentiment Keith de Noble expressed in his narrative of Jack. He was a solid, well-spoken, thoughtful southern gentleman who always held your attention and with captivating style and charm. Jack always had a pot of coffee ready and I would pour a cup and listen to Jack’s tales, some of which I can still recall.
An unfortunate fact of growing older means that your older friends and mentors will not always be around. You are left to cherish your memories of them. The last time I saw Jack was during a visit with him at the old V.A. Hospital in Little Rock. The effects of his malady or perhaps medications seemed to have impacted his memory but he was still the kind southern gentleman who walked me to the door where I then shook his hand and said goodbye one last time.
But now, I am—and you are—able to greet Jack Witt, “The Archer’s Friend,” again within the halls of memories known as the Archery Hall of Fame.
Ben Pearson, Jr.
Memories of Jack Witt by Ann Clark (Inducted into Archery Hall of Fame 1984)
To have known him, this tall and handsome southern gentleman, was one of the greatest pleasures of my life. He looked more like the leading man from a Hollywood antebellum movie than a company representative. His charm, elegance, and wit remain a special memory to this day.
He walked into our archery shop, known in Cincinnati as Clark’s Archery and Sports Center, and introduced himself as representing Ben Pearson Archery Company. At the time, I was on my way to becoming a champion archer, and doing local demonstrations at various locations around town. My family, Jack, Sherry, Diane, and Debbie, were all archers and had become known as the number one archery family. Jack Witt became fast friends with my family and introduced us to the Ben Pearson Palomino bow.
Jack thought I would be a good representative for the Ben Pearson’s Palomino bow (who me?). Soon after, he had me representing Ben Pearson’s bow at sports events, outdoor events, and doing personal appearances at Ben Pearson’s booth at shows around the country. I was paid $50 for each performance, and appearance in the booth. It was exciting as I learned, with Jack’s guidance, I became skillful at this new opportunity.
I recall there was some opposition from “the powers that be.” A costumed Ann Clark from the stage, rather than Ann Clark in competitive clothing, would keep the wives and girlfriends away from the Ben Pearson’s booth. Jack Witt said, “Let’s just wait and see, this little lady not only shoots, she is skilled in promotion and not only answers questions from the men, but has the ability to convince the ladies they should get into Archery and start shooting too!”
Again, with Jack Witt at the helm, Jim Dougherty was introduced to the Pearson world after Zebco Fishing Tackle became involved with the organization. Zebco knew nothing about Archery. Jim was the Sporting Goods Development Manager for “Leisure Group” which owned Zebco. (Leisure Group acquired Ben Pearson Company in 1967). Jack Witt had me traveling with each representative group to introduce archery jargon to the “backwoods”, off the beaten path, fishing world dealers … another Jack Witt success.
In store promotions were yet another area of Jack’s expertise. The representatives would come in, and I would do the demo … bows were sold at Sears, Montgomery Ward, Hart’s and many other stores. The representatives were happy, and so were the chain stores. To my recollection, Ben Pearson was the first archery manufacturing company to have a Pro Staff (made up of champions and noted bowhunters) representing and promoting archery products.
Jack Witt was a visionary. Much of my archery career and the many “first” promotional themes came from the master, Jack Witt. Jack mentored me. He taught me not to back down, if I knew I was right, and to be smart enough to admit when I was wrong. He encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
He reminded me to look in before I looked out, to think straight, check my equipment, step up to the line, be confident, and to shoot straight … and then double check it all again.
Jack’s wisdom has taught me many things that I have carried with me all of my life. Jack Witt was a big part of my success in archery. Without Jack‘s vision and belief in me, I would still be another archer on the line … yet, at 90 something, archery is still an essential part of who I was, and who I am.
Jack Witt helped change the face of archery. His skills introduced a whole new world of people to our beloved sport.
He was one of my favorite people!
Another memory of Jack by Debbie Ohl (Champion Archer)
In 1962 her name was Debbie Clark (Ann’s daughter) and she had just won her division in the 1962 Ben Pearson Open at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan. The following is a letter Debbie received from Jack at that time.
George Gardner called me yesterday and told me how you ran off with the Brown County Open – and I mean ran off. It’s wonderful Debbie, and I wish I could have been there to congratulate you. I can just see your father, Jack, bursting off all the buttons on his shirt walking around; and Ann beaming like the morning sun. I know how proud of you they are.
Just one thing, Debbie, which might mean very little now; Stay just as you are. You are just on the threshold of stepping into the top or Championship circle. You will win some and lose some, but above all, be just a good a loser as you are a winner. This is the mark of a true champion. Your mother is someone who offers a good example. Ann has never lost that killer instinct. You can never feel sorry for a competitor during a tournament, but afterwards, win or lose, take it like you have seen your mother.
The next time we shoot together we will shoot to see who goes after the drinks. If you win, don’t grin.
Jack Witt, Sales Manager, Ben Pearson, Inc.
Jerry Amster (a famed professional photographer whose work included professional archer, archery promoter, champion archer, in-product development of archery products, archery sales for Ben Pearson and other archery affiliates) made the following comments regarding Jack:
“In San Diego in 1963, I sold The Archers Den and moved my young family to Long Beach. Ben Pearson (Archery Div.) and the very kind Jack Witt made me Regional Director for the eleven western states.”
“Jack insisted that “as a professional” I should be paid for the use of the “Training Bow” and that it be known as “The Amster Training Bow.” (Many are still in use)
“Jack Witt was a class act and exemplified what it meant to be a “Professional Archer,” not just as a shooter, but as a representative of the Sport of Archery!”
Jerry Amster 2016
Jack Preston Witt
Contributor to the Sport / Influence on the Sport
By: Keith de Noble (FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE ARKANSAS BOWHUNTERS ASSOCIATION)
“Jack was a major player in getting bowhunting and archery going,” said John Heuston, retired outdoor writer. “He was a real leader and probably should be in the Archery Hall of Fame.”
Ron Powell, formerly of Ben Pearson, Inc. remembered, “He was like a second father to me. My dad was president of the company, so I worked there and had the opportunity to work with Jack on many things.”
I, too, felt as if Jack was a second father, and would not be surprised to hear others felt the same way. My father died in1970, just a bit under a year after I first started bowhunting. It was Jack who got me started after visiting his store, the Archery Center, on Old Cantrell Road, Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1969. When I had left the store my wallet was thirty two dollars and change lighter but I was the proud owner of a Ben Pearson Cougar recurve, six arrows, three of which were tipped with Ben Pearson Deadhead broadheads, and the others with field points. In addition, my tackle included a Kwikee Kwiver bow quiver, an arm guard, and a shooting glove.
I was a bowhunter—rather, I thought I was a bowhunter. Through the next few years, and with Jack’s persistent influence, along with a few others, I became a bowhunter, and an archer. My story is one of hundreds, most likely thousands where Jack was involved.
“Jack and I were very close friends,” relates Bill Clements, one of the founding members of the Arkansas Bowhunters Association. “Jack’s greatest contribution to archery was his ability to get along with people, and brings them together. You couldn’t help but get along with Jack.
“Jack actually started the Arkansas Bowhunters Association (ABA). It was his idea to set up a meeting where he let us know there were clubs in other states and one was needed in Arkansas,” remembers Bill Clements. Jack was an Honorary Life Member of the ABA, and in the first class to be inducted into the ABA Hall of Fame, along with Ben Pearson, Roger Maynard, and Webster Meggs in 2000.
Hersey Nelson, who headed production at Ben Pearson, Inc. for a number of years remembers, “Jack was a real close friend. We made several trips together where we promoted the sport.”
Clements explained, “Jack came to Ben Pearson when he saw the handwriting on the wall with the Coca-Cola Company and realized he had gone as far as he could. He placed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal which was noticed by Carl Haun, then president of Ben Pearson, Inc. Haun called him up for an interview. Jack was hired to handle sales and promotion of the Sovereign Division of the company.”
When Jack was interviewed by Carl Haun, he remembered, “The president of the company asked me, ‘What do you know about archery?’ I told him, ‘Nothing.’ He said, “How do you think I can hire you to talk about archery when you don’t know anything about it?’ I asked him if he had anyone who knew archery. He said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘It looks to me that you can either teach me archery or teach them sales promotion.”
Nelson related how Jack did not know how to shoot a bow when he went to work for Pearson, “So, I worked with him. The string kept hitting him in the nose. I told him, ‘All you have to do is keep your nose out of the way –as I chuckled.’ Jack worked hard. He was a fast learner.”
Chuckle! Jack had a unique and infectious laugh that can only be described as a chuckle. When he started he would steadily lower his head while chuckling. I presume it was his way of respecting the person while laughing at the circumstances. There were countless times I witnessed his chuckle, most as a result of my own actions or words. He used to claim he would get his 2×4 and whack me if I didn’t quit making silly shooting mistakes. He had a way of getting my attention.
“Jack was a heck of a guy,” said Harry Lindsey, former Controller of Ben Pearson, Inc. “He was a real promoter for us. The company bought a place near Mountain View that had been known as ‘The Land of the Crossbow.’ We changed it to ‘The Land of the Longbow.’ At the time, Ben Pearson was president of the Southern Archery Association. With Jack’s help, they organized a tournament at the location that was well attended.” Lindsey finished by saying, “Jack was a real dedicated fellow. He commuted from Little Rock to Pine Bluff every day.”
Jack was a teacher, unique in his ability and qualifications. Clements explains it well, “When I started shooting, I improved rapidly, then my scores fell back. I fought the problem for quite a while and finally called Jack. He had me come over to his house and shoot in his garage. Jack believed in shooting up close to the target. That way you didn’t worry about missing the target and you could concentrate on the shot. After watching me for a while, he chuckled that special chuckle of his and said, “You don’t have any idea what you’re doing do you? You’re peeking. You want to hit the target, know you won’t hit it, so you freeze. He fixed my problem and I started improving steadily.”
Powell related some of Jack’s influence on archery, “He helped coordinate and promote the Cobo Hall shoots in Detroit. Jack, John D. Sanders, and I drove in a company Volkswagen van to Colorado Springs to spend a week coordinating Boy Scout Jamboree shoots, exhibitions, and training. It was my most memorable experience of Jack.”
Ernie Decker is one of my closest friends, going back to high school. When I started bowhunting, he was still focused on gun deer hunting, and duck hunting with his dad. In 1971, while serving in the Arkansas National Guard, he met Major Ernest Jackson, who got him started in tournament archery. Like many, Decker purchased his equipment from the Archery Center with the help of Jack and his long-time friend and employee, Lois McMillan.
Ernie and I shot in the 1971 Arkansas Field Archery Association State Championship (AFAA) and two weeks later shot in the Arkansas State Archery Association State Championship. We had to go to the Archery Center to buy more arrows to finish the AFAA shoot on the second day. Jack got a pretty good chuckle out of that. We took plenty of arrows to the second shoot. Later that year we attended our first ABA Fall Broadhead Championship. Ernie remembers the rifts that existed between the organizations and what Jack had to say about it, “What you really need is a common enemy.” A wisdom still applicable in today’s anti-hunting environment.
Jack purchased Pearson’s Archery Center at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and moved it to Little Rock on April 1, 1968, to the first of his two locations during his ownership.
In an article written by Paul Banta that appeared in the June 7, 1979, issue of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jack related the following which illustrates his good humor, “We’ll go through several thousand dozen feathers a year. Ben Pearson used two million turkeys a year to make arrows. We used to tell people that Thanksgiving and Christmas were by-products of archery.”
Gertrude Witt, affectionately known as ‘Gertie,’ married Jack on September 29, 1946. “Jack was quite an artist. He painted a big van owned by Ben Pearson, Inc., that they took to Cobo Hall. When he was helping set up the ranges near Hot Springs, Arkansas, for a National Field Archery Association Championship, he suffered a severe cut on his leg from a chainsaw and spent some time in the hospital. I never knew about it until he came home after spending most of two months down there working to get ready for that shoot.
“He helped teach archery to the students at the Arkansas Blind School. I remember a big demonstration he and Ben Pearson put on at the Lafayette Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Arkansas Butane Dealers Association and Independent Oil Marketers had a convention. They were urged to shoot an apple off a person’s head. Jack respectfully declined.”
Not only was Jack a promoter, a shooter, an artist, and an avid golfer, he was also an author. His articles on the sport appeared in Japanese publications, and The Archers’ Magazine (TAM), and numerous other publications.
In the June, 1963, issue, which highlighted the Silver (25th) Anniversary of Ben Pearson, Inc., Jack’s article, “The Archery Clinic” appeared with an interesting subtitle: “Problem: YOU!” The article succinctly and accurately relayed how most of our shooting problems come from within. The sage advice he offered is still as pertinent today as when he penned it.
John P. Everett, editor of TAM and author of, “The World’s Largest Archery Equipment Manufacturing Plant,” about Ben Pearson, Inc., wrote this about Jack Witt, “… in Walter Maupin’s words, “always takes a good picture” and, we feel, he is as near as anyone comes to being the “picture” of an archer. Cool, calm and almost casual, he went around the field course on the last day of our visit and we were amazed, when we added up the score, to find Jack had shot a “cool” 240-plus for the 14 targets with very little fuss about it.
“Then, having finished this bit of extra-curricular activity, he sat down and just as coolly, calmly and almost casually typed out his column which appears in this issue. That’s Jack Witt. He seems to “play at his work” but we suspect he “works at his play” and, in doing so, he and his five representatives who travel the country promoting archery and the Golden Sovereign line and the Ben Pearson company have done far more for the progress of our sport and the progress of the company than can easily be measured.”
Powell summed up his thoughts, “Jack had a lot of charisma. He did a lot of great things. He promoted archery in general. Certainly, Jack was a key figure. I think he deserves to be in the Archery Hall of Fame.”
Jack Witt was born in Hope, Arkansas on December 9, 1914, and died at age 65, of multiple myeloma on September 8, 1980. Sixty-five years was too little for a man of his talent and influence, and yet, it was 65 very good years.
In the 11 years I knew Jack, he had a profound influence on me. I was indeed fortunate to have had such a fine older friend, mentor, and father figure in my life. He is in my Hall of Fame.
Keith de Noble
For more please go to: Archery Hall of Fame