Straight Talk Interview: Shirley Bonamie

Shirley Bonamie

 

FA: To start,  where you were born, grow up and go to school? Any college? 

SB:  I was born in Ferndale, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in 1934.  I remember some pretty lean years growing up.  Of course, the depression was ongoing then and World War II was about to happen.  I was the fourth of five kids.  My folks both worked in the auto factories for years.  We moved to Roseville when I was seven.  This town is east of Detroit.  That’s where I went to school.  No college.  College in those days was only for the wealthier kids.  I was vying for a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto since I was seriously into piano studies, but ended up marrying my high school sweetheart.  More important in those days.  Times have sure changed.

1934 Shirley with her older sister.

FA: Were you interested in any sports growing up?

SB:My older sister was a great sports fan, especially the Detroit Tigers.  Had pictures hanging all over our bedroom walls. So I sort of grew into it.   Dad frequently took us to Tiger games.  My only school playing sport was softball where I played third base.  Otherwise, I loved ice skating.  After having four sons, I can stay with the best of them on most sports They played all sports and one even had a four year football scholarship.  Love football, especially college.  Living in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida Gators, really keeps you excited.

First Communion at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Roseville, MI.

FA: Tell us how you meet your husband. 

SB:High School.  He was a popular, fun guy that everyone liked to be with.  He was  good baseball, football and basketball player.  Excelled at pitching in baseball.  In fact, the Tigers looked at both he and a teammate for drafting, but the teammate won out.  He was a $30,000 bonus baby, they called them in those days.

Shirley and future hubby, Chuck, at the Senior Prom, May of 1952. For some reason, he had a long face.

FA: Tell us about your children and growing up with them

SB: All my boys were born over  a six year span.  Consequently, they were very close growing up. We moved to Grayling, Michigan when the youngest was a year old and started our lives in the north woods. They all still feel like that was God’s country and go back often for hunting and fishing trips.

 We didn’t have video games in those years so they busied themselves with creative outside games with the neighbor boys (whom they are still friends with all these years).  The boys were very competitive in everything they did.  Their dad instilled that in them.   We lost our oldest boy at age 45 in a tragic accident with his pickup truck.  Very, very hard to get over the loss of a child.  The other three still remain very close. 

FA: What is your fondest memory of your husband, and your children

SB: Time spent wandering in the northwoods, tracking deer, making tree blinds, fishing trips along the AuSable River.  When you live in northern Michigan, your life is surrounded by wildlife and hunting and fishing expeditions. 

Favorite pastime for Shirley is fishing with her husband. “We had some great experiences over the years.  My claim to fame was a 140 lb. tarpon caught in the Florida Keys.  Never want to catch a fish like that again although it was pretty exciting.”

FA: You spent a lot of time in the archery industry. Do any of your children shoot archery or bowhunt?

SB: They all are avid bowhunters.  Our oldest was most obsessed with the sport.  That’s all he thought about all year.  He was a successful hunter as well.  Their dad and his dad were into archery in the early years, long before I even knew much about a bow and arrow.  Grampa even had a very early Bear bow.


FA: Tell us how you came to go to work at Bear Archery.

SB: Early on our time in Grayling, I went to work for a local company as a bookkeeper.  After a couple of years, I was disenchanted with the company, saw an ad for a sales secretary for Bob Kelly at Bear Archery.  The plant was located a mile or so from my current employment, but I was so mad that day, I decided to walk over there with my boots on in the slush and snow, to apply.  I had to wait in the reception area where they housed all Fred’s trophies including  the huge brown bear.  This all actually unnerved me while I waited.  At any rate, Kelly hired me on the spot as his Sales Secretary.  A few year later my title changed to Administrative Assistant and a member of the staff. .  Bob had recently married his secretary and she wanted to retire.  So I replaced her.  There was a sales meeting scheduled for the next week and he needed a secretary with shorthand to record the event.  Now, mind you, I hardly knew a bow from an arrow so this was very stressful.

Fred Bear with Bob Kelly and Dick Lattimer on an Alaskan bowhunt.

FA: Had you heard of Fred Bear before applying? If so, what had you heard about
Fred?

SB: I had heard of him only because he was so kind to the community in many ways.  Everyone liked him and he was respected for being the biggest employer in Grayling, a town of 3,500 people.  I had seen him downtown from time to time at the coffee shop and popular restaurants.

FA: Who did you work for and what were your day-to-day duties at Bear?

SB: I sat right next to Kelly and we had another assistant to him.  It was during this time the company started to grow by leaps and bounds.  Kelly was quite aggressive in his promotions.  It was evident that the mass merchant or discount house, was becoming the American way to shop.  Thus our efforts went into figuring out how and what to sell them.  Boston Camping became the first major discount chain we sold to.  Then Kmart.  The Whitetail Hunter compound bow was developed especially for them.


FA: Can you tell us a little about your history while at Bear, promotions, jobs,
etc.?

SB:  I started April of 1966.  Was in the Sales office for a few years.  Then Fred’s secretary decided to retire as well as the Executive VP at the same time.  They approached me to take over the secretary’s office.  To be honest, I liked where I was.  Fred was always away hunting and at that time was filming the American Sportsmen’s show for ABC, I believe.  Sounded like a very boring job compared to working with the sales staff and dealer network.  We were constantly trying to appease the long time Bear dealers who were the only ones allowed to sell Bear goods at the time.  They didn’t like the mass merchant selling cheaper Bear products.  Finally, I consented to moving to the top office since it was the highest paying office job.


FA: Did you work directly for Fred? 

SB: Yes.  I sat right outside his office door and across from the executive VPs office.  At that time, all the company’s management was done by the executive VP.  Fred was made the Chairman once Victor Comptometer Corp. took over.  He became more of a figure head for the company and worked in the development of new bow products with the research department.  Of course, he worked closely with marketing and advertising in the promotion of archery.

FA: Bear Archery, under the leadership of Fred made incredible advancements in the sport of  archery. What would you say were some of most important

SB: The Bear Razorhead, Bear Bow Quiver, Take Down Bows, Fred Bear Signature Bow limited series.  There were so many innovations during my time at Bear that I can’t remember who the inventor was.  And I was the “Keeper of the patents”….  Then the Compound Bow came along and that brought many new products that adapted to that concept.  Bear was a year or so late getting into this market but caught up in a hurry.

FA: What role, if any, did you have in these innovations whether in concept, design, marketing, organization? 

SB; Sometimes  I helped naming the various new products but had nothing to do with development.  Looking back, so many of us discussed and shared ideas in frequent meetings, I can’t say what part I played in any of that.

FA: I know you loved the marketing aspects of Bear Archery.  Talk about that. 

SB: Yes, I did love the sales/marketing part of it all.  Bob Kelly was a very determined and strong marketing man.  He worked long hours to not only promote the sales of our products and working with our national sales force, but promoting the whole sport of archery in every way he could.  Many of the ongoing archery organizations were started because of his efforts.  I felt he never got enough credit  along the way but he was a humble man and didn’t really care.  Consequently, his zest for sales rubbed off on me.  I worked hard right along with him.

FA: Did you interact with the sales team?  Any good anecdotes here?

SB: When I started in 1966, there were 18 national sales reps.  All were dedicated and promotional minded.  Many had been professional archers and of course, all were bowhunters.  I very quickly got on board working with these guys.  I remember Hugh Blackburn as a fun loving guy, later his son, Saffell.  Al Dawson comes to mind. Doug Walker, Bob Winquest, Bob Bigler, Neil  Edwards.   Many went on to work with other companies and invent their own products.  And many of them were later employed by me when I was operations manager at Muzzy Products and then with my own company, Silkmasters.

There were many fun times with the sales crew.  Kelly always had selling contests with healthy rewards – trips to Hawaii for one.  The guys loved this.  Sales meetings were held in Grayling most of the time, then they would be able to trout fish with Fred, and otherwise rub elbows with him.  Hunting season would coincide with these meetings so Fred would arrange hunting time at Grouse Haven, a special hunting area in Rose City, Michigan. 

FA: Bear Archery had a unique group of people working there. I’ve listed some. Can you share your opinions, or stories about each? 

SB: Bob Kelly – I think I shared quite a bit about Kelly above.  He was a great boss and person.  Dick Lattimer once compiled a list of what we called “Kellyisms”, expressions Kelly used.  All unique.  Many of us leftover Bear employee still use them automatically.  He was well respected.

Dick Mauch – first met Dick when he was a sales rep for Bear and also part owner of the company.  Highlight with Dick was when I performed his marriage to Carol back in 1982, in Fred’s office.  I was a Notary Public and could do such things.  Was memorable.  Dick was always a joy to work with.  I’ve been invited to his Plum Creek Ranch in Nebraska but never went. 

Sherwood Schoch – Sherwood was a good friend during his time with Bear.  I always admired his sales ability.  Very sincere and always wrote good business.  Went on to hire him for a Muzzy rep for a time.  Was easy to work with.

Doug Walker – Doug was a well liked character.  Sales rep for years. 

Dick Lattimer – Dick and I worked side by side all my years with Bear.  He hired on a year after me as our first in-house ad man after being with our outside agency for years.  Dick excelled working closely with Fred and Kelly.  Our sales/marketing team was growing.  Things were exciting.  Dick had great ideas that turned productive with the support of Kelly and Fred.  He and I shared both of the boss’s demands as well.

Glenn St Charles – Glenn was always a part of both Fred and Kelly’s lives.  Frequent discussions by phone, meetings, correspondence sharing decisions on archery products and hunts, and Pope & Young plans.  All respected each other greatly.  Glenn was always a nice man to me.

Owen Jeffrey – worked with Owen as a go between both Kelly and Fred.  He was a good man who went on to have his own bow company.

FA: Fred was a funny, intelligent, warm-hearted man. Any good stories you can share here that illustrates his depth, maybe his sense of humor?

He had quite a sense of humor.  There was hardly a day go by that he wasn’t involved with a prank of some sort.  He love teasing Dick Lattimer.  He came to work about ten o’clock most days and many with two different colored shoes.  I would note this and he’d say, “Funny, I have another pair just like them in the closet”….  He was always snapping a picture off me seriously at work when he had a new camera. 

Fred being Fred snapping photos while Shirley worked, unaware.

He had many fans visit often.  I knew at times he had a tired day and said I’d tell the visitor he was too busy.  He just shrugged and said, that’s part of my job, send him in, but in ten minutes, call me to a meeting.  That’s how we handled his time.  He always had pictures ready to autograph and it made fans so happy.  It always amazed me how in awe the fans were of him.  To me, he was just my boss and friend.

 

Fred Bear working hard, still having some fun.

 

FA: I know Fred was one the best promoters of archery to date.  What was his philosophy on promoting the sport and helping it grow?

SB: Very strong philosophy, shared with the whole Bear staff.  His strongest thoughts were trying to convince the anti-hunter that hunting was okay.  That somehow, the chicken you bought wrapped in plastic, was once alive but was slaughtered to bring you food in a different way.  That was an ongoing effort for him.  He didn’t really believe in the compound bow or bow sights and other products that came along to enhance the shoot.  He was simple with his bow shooting. 

At a company award’s dinner, Bob and Nancy Owens on left, with Fred and Henrietta, Shirley on the right.

FA: You had to see Fred on good days and bad.  What most impressed you about him on each? 

SB: Good days, he would like to catch up on his correspondence.  I took shorthand so it was easy for him to dictate probably 50 letters in a session.  He was not a long winded letter writer so that was good for me.    Bad days, he would sit in the lunch room with supervisors or workers just gabbing and drinking coffee.  Not get serious about anything.  Or if there were hot issues that needed his attention, he’d call a meeting and let loose.  Not often.

FA: What would it surprise readers to know about him that most people didn’t know?

SB: Fred was a simple, easy to know, humble guy.  He was always interested in my family and admired my oldest son for his hunting prowess and talked to him often in his office (my son worked in the bow dept.)  And then another son for his football skills.  He hand framed a picture of this son that was in the newspaper.  Cliff treasures this to this day. 

He liked things to be low key and not a lot of drama.  Of course, there was gossip here and there at the company that he didn’t want to miss but would discard quickly.

Shirley sent this unpublished photo of Fred. “He looks so relaxed and happy, how I remember him most days.”

FA:  How did he interact with people?  Also, what celebrities liked Fred?,

SB:   He was so patient with his many fans.  Answered their letters, sent autographed photos.  Celebrities included Joe Engle, the astronaut.  This was a good relationship.  Of course, Ted Nugent.  Clare Conley, editor of Outdoor Life magazine in those days, Arthur Godfrey, TV show at the time, Can’t seem to remember more but there are more.

FA: I heard there was a wedding in your office… what was that all about?!?

Addressed above.  It was the year we (Dick, Patsy Wiseman and I) put together Fred’s surprise 80th birthday party, a humongous party that brought Fred’s friends from all parts of the world.  Dick Mauch and his fiancé, Carol, came.  They were to get married before leaving Nebraska but waited too late to get their license, so decided to do it while in Gainesville.  Therefore, I had the Notary Public license to perform marriages and thus, did so in Fred’s office with he and Henrietta, his wife, as their witnesses.  Fred held a shotgun for fun.  Dick wore his camouflaged suit coat.  A memorable event.  Guess I did a good job since they are still happily married.

The wedding performed by Shirley, overseen with a shot gun wielding Fred and a very happy couple of soon to be newlyweds Dick and Carol Mauch.

FA: What years were you at Bear?  Did you travel to Florida when Bear moved?

SB: 1966 to 1984.  Yes, I was invited to move with my job to FL, in late 1978 after having a new house built, my husband and I moved here.  Now this move was precipitated by a very eventful situation.  In mid 1970s, Bear was blessed with an influx of wonderful business.  The then executive VP decided to double the work force without a lot of thought.  With these new workers, came many from downstate Detroit who felt Bear should be paying higher wages as they had at the auto companies.  Our managers tried to explain we were making bows and arrows, not cars and must compete with other archery companies.  Much to the dismay of management, these workers decided to strike and get the UAW into our company.  To reveal all the ramifications of this strike would take many pages.  Suffice it to say, management was able to win out over the UAW but the corporation that owned Bear at the time, said Bear should probably think about moving the company where wages are lower.  Thus, management created a Relocation Feasibility Study that led to many southern states.  Gainesville became the winner since the college here would provide the seasonal part time workers needed.  Bob Kelly, the executive VP through this, told the corporation we would make this giant move profitably  They had major doubts.  However, the profit plan was realized during the move year much to the surprise of our corporation.  This was a super exciting time.  Fifty families moved down so with  good supervision, new workers performed well.

Alice Lattimer and Shirley in front of the newly uncovered bronze of Fred at the 2007 Archery Hall of Fame banquet where I spoke about my time with Bob Kelly who was honored at this event.

FA: Do you think Fred ever regretted selling his company

SB: I don’t think so.  As the company grew, problems grew and he didn’t like contending with them.  With his new role as chairman, he was able to continue inventing and working with the research and development department.

Fred was not particularly happy about the strike and ultimate move, but with the corporation telling us what to do he had to relinquish his feelings.  He and Henrietta had already been spending their winters near Orlando so he liked Florida.  When it came down to two cities in the choice, he want the other one but understood when Gainesville was chosen.

FA: Do you keep in touch with any of the other Bear employees?  Any photos of you all in recent years?

SB: Yes, there are quite a few I keep up with.  Particularly, Patsy (Putts) Wiseman-Snider, Eleanore Scott (Frank’s wife} Ellie helped run the Fred Bear Museum both in Grayling and here, Margee Rymal (Order Dept Supervisor), Marie Hatfield (accounting dept who still lives in Grayling), Glenn “Tex” Wilson (past sales rep), Dick Mauch, Bob Bigler (past sales rep), Gene Goldacker (customer service mgr)and his wife, and others who still live close by.  Mike Lattimer, Dick’s son, still works at Bear in the shipping dept.  And I see Dick’s wife Alice from time to time.

This photo was from one of the reunions held at Shirley’s home (r-l) Ray “Hap” Fling (past National Sales Manager, Dick Lattimer, Sherwood Schoch, (past sales representative) and Gary Simonds (past Bear bowyer, now with Mathews)

FA: I hear you have a special bow..

SB: Yes, I was fortunate to have a Brown Bear compound bow made by Bill Stewart especially for me and signed by Fred -‘ “To Shirley, with Love Fred 1982”  Since I’m not a bow shooter, and never was, it holds a nice spot in my closet.

FA: What do you do to stay busy these days?

After Bear Archery in 1984, I went on to be Operations Manager at the new start up company, Muzzy Products.  Their new broadhead innovation quickly became popular and we enjoyed great sales.  I was able to bring all my Bear Archery knowledge to the forefront and was proud of helping Muzzy grow.  I was there four years.  During that time, my family decided to form our own screen printing company, Silkmasters.  Our son, Cliff, had knowledge and artistic skills needed, and I had the financial, sales, marketing and people skills needed.  So in 1986 we launched the business.  I worked both Muzzy and Silkmasters for two years.  Pretty busy time for me.  Silkmasters printed a line of wildlife art on t-shirts and other garments, that we wholesaled to all the zoos in the US and other wildlife entities.  We enjoyed  winning awards in both art and for print skills.  Then later, we added a University of Florida Gator license to print garments for this venue.  And it was pretty exciting when we won two national champs in both football and basketball!

We liquidated Silkmasters in 2009 after trying to sell it for a few years.  Then I officially became retired. I was keeping busy socially until 2014 when I was blessed with a disease called Wegeners that almost took my life and has left me walking with a cane and pretty tired all the time.  Right now I’m contemplating moving to south Florida with my youngest son.  I read a lot, love TV shows and sports, and keep pretty busy with my family.  I have 14 grandchildren and 16 great grand.

“Photo taken at my mother’s 90th birthday party. Silkmasters made t-shirts for the family reunion. These are my sisters, brother and mom, now all deceased. “

FA: If you had to sum up your life in the industry in a few sentences, what  would you write?  

SB: Not knowing anything about the archery industry going in, I found brand new interests constantly.  I understood it was a small industry but it’s members were so dedicated to it’s growth.  I learned so much about archery, bowhunting, inventions, manufacturing and the people who made it all happen.  I really missed it.  Happy to still be in the loop to keep up with it all.  Unfortunately, so many of the older members are falling but hopefully, new, fresh folks will take over.

Bear Archery lady friends who gather frequently for lunches. Patsy Wiseman, Eleanor Scott, Kathy McEwen, Shirley and Margy Rymal.

FA: What is your advice on life, for the younger generation? 

SB: This is hard for me to say.  The times have changed so much in my life. I just hope and pray the younger generation will regain good morals and common sense, think hard about their lives and futures, don’t succumb to outside pressures of drug and substance abuse, be good citizens and care about your family and friends.

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