NEW FRANKLIN Local author Kevin Virden is an outdoorsman at heart. And with all the outdoors have to offer in this area, it’s fishing that Virden has grown most fond of through the years. That lifelong affection coupled with his writerly curiosity led him to write a biography on Akron-native, fellow outdoorsman and perhaps Ohio’s greatest angler Fred Arbogast. The book was published this past Summer by Cincinnati's Whitefish Press, a publishing house which takes special interest in the outdoors.
Virden has been collecting old fishing tackle for more than twenty years, a hobby he shares with his father and brother. Leading up to the publication of "Fred Arbogast: A Biography of Akron’s Greatest Angler" this past summer, Virden decided to take a closer look at the baubles that have held his and his family’s interest for so many years.
"My family grew up fishing with various lures including the infamous Fred Arbogast Jitterbugs and Hula Poppers, so I was familiar with the name," says Virden. "It was interesting learning about the Fred Arbogast Company because I knew very little other than the name of the founder on a lure package!"
What Virden found was the story of a remarkable Akronite. Fred Arbogast was born and raised in the city in 1894. He attended what was then called Akron High School on Forge Street, but would later be known as Central High School, and even later, Central-Hower. There, Arbogast played football and competed in two successful state championship games.
He attended college briefly after graduation, but eventually left to work at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Although developing into a highly-skilled technician, Arbogast left the legendary Akron industry-leader to start a fishing tackle business in 1925. The Fred Arbogast Company would enjoy well-earned success, selling lures of Arbogast’s design. Some of his famous ones — the Jitterbug, Tin Liz, Weedless Kicker and Sunfish, to name a few — are still remembered by the fishing community and, of course, by collectors and historians of fishing ephemera like Virden.
And although Virden’s interest and subject matter center heavily on the outdoor history of his hometown of Akron/New Franklin, his research wanders all over Ohio. "Al Foss: The Life and Fishing Lures of the Pork Rind King," Virden’s second book, tells the story of "another infamous angler" — this one from Cleveland. It’s set to be published in March. The biographies are just two of nearly a dozen books by Virden slated for publication by Whitefish Press, all of which focus on outdoor history.
"I have enjoyed the historical aspects of fishing and outdoors in our area so that has been a major focus on my writing," says Virden. "It takes time researching newspapers, magazines, sporting goods journals, reading company materials, reading about fishing history, sorting through research materials, and trying to find people that were connected to whatever business I may be writing about."
It’s a labor of love for Virden—a love for a hobby shared with his family, a love for a hometown, for Ohio, for its natural beauty and wealth. He writes for himself and the people who love it all along with him.
"History is fun because readers can travel back to different eras, much like watching a movie, if you enjoy doing it," says Virden. "Hopefully readers who enjoy Akron history can take note and enjoy the projects I have worked on. The hope is others may read and appreciate not only the products, but gain a sense of understanding of what made Akron great in multiple aspects. Greater Akron has had a rich history and has always been a wonderful location to live."