Revelers will celebrate the spirit and life of Grayling hunting legend on Fred Bear Day
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Organizers for the second annual Fred Bear Day are turning things up a notch this year, hoping to bring more people to Grayling to honor the archery legend and to raise funds to support youth archery.
Fred Bear Day will be held in Grayling on Tuesday, March 5, on the birthday of the renowned hunter and archer.
Bear was born in 1902 in a farmhouse near Waynesboro, Pennsylvania during a blizzard.
Bear and Charles Piper founded the Bear Products Company in 1933. The business focused on silk-screened advertising materials, but Bear started making archery equipment in a corner of the building. It soon became a full-time business.
The Bear Archery plant opened in Grayling in 1947. The plant employed hundreds of Crawford County residents. In 1976, the employees produced a record number of 360,000 bows.
Back in the day, Fred Bear Day was a yearly celebration. That stopped after the Bear Archery plant was moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1978.
“They had a big celebration when the archery was here,” said John Wejrowski, an organizer for Fred Bear Day. “When the archery left, there was nothing.”
Bear died in 1988. He was 86. A Fred Bear Archery employee reunion was held in Grayling in 2002, which would have been his 100th birthday.
Tom Jenkins, an avid bow hunter from Roscommon, prompted the idea to launch Fred Bear Day.
Jeff Nowak, the administrator for the Traditional Bear Archery Group and archery instructor for Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools, also spearheaded planning for the event.
Wejrowski moved to Graying after serving with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War in 1968. He worked at Bear Archery for six months, and fly-fished with Bear.
“I fished with him a couple of times down on the South Branch with Bob Smock and Horace Failing, a couple of old fly tiers here in Grayling,” he said.
While organizers are hoping to turn the celebration into a full weekend of activities, the primary focus will remain on Bear’s birthday.
“We hope that whatever day it falls, that it’s celebrated to honor Fred,” Wejrowski said.
The goal of Fred Bear Day is to honor the hunting legend and his contributions to the Grayling community. It is also held to bring visitors and business to Grayling as winter lingers on.
“We just thought we would rekindle this thing and get it going,” Wejrowski said. “There is not a whole lot going on in Grayling this time of year.”
Last year, dozens of people took part in a 21-arrow whistling salute held at the former Bear Archery Plant. A luncheon followed at Bear’s Den Pizzeria, which featured Bear Archery employees and collectors of Fred Bear memorabilia.
Only 68 people could attend the event due to limited seating capacity.
“We packed that and we had people waiting outside to get it in,” Wejrowski said.
This year, the 21-arrow whistling salute will be held at the Bear Archery Plant, located at 5671 M-72 West, at noon.
A luncheon will follow at 1 p.m. at the Grayling Eagles Club. A keepsake card for entry will be provided to everyone in attendance for a $10 donation.
Thus far, 45 people have purchased tickets. The Eagles Club has the capacity for 220 people.
Participants are expected to come to the event from all over the country.
“People will wait until that day and they’ll come and get their ticket at the hall,” Wejrowski said.
John Kabisa, a Fred Bear memorabilia collector from White Lake, will have several items on display at the luncheon. Others will be on hand to buy, sell or have items appraised.
“These guys are just crazy about this stuff,” Wejrowski said.
Escalade, Incorporated, an Indiana based manufacturer and distributor of sporting goods which now owns Bear Archery, has donated a bow and quiver that will be raffled off. Silent auctions will also be held.
Proceeds will be used to reestablish the National Archery School Program at Grayling schools. The program is open to fourth though 12th grade students.
Bows, shooting backstops and field targets and a storage container are provided through the program. Funding and equipment can also be obtained from archery outfitters, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s to get youth involved in archery and it teaches a new skill and provides them with some discipline,” Wejrowski said.
For more information, contact Wejrowski at (989) 370-7589 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.