Former CEO of Fox Products in South Whitley passes away
The company is known worldwide for specialized instruments
SOUTH WHITLEY, Ind. (WPTA) - The former owner and CEO of Fox Products in South Whitley has passed away. A company spokesperson says 89-year-old Alan Fox passed away peacefully surrounded by family and friends. He ran the company from 1960-2012. Alan was son of the company’s founder Hugo Fox. He left his career in chemical engineering to run the family business.
A news release from the company says, “he learned the art of instrument manufacturing and oversaw the company through numerous innovations, including North America’s first contrabassoon, the development of the Renard student line, the creation of polypropylene bassoons, the production of Fox oboe family instruments, and he brought Fox Products to the world stage through international distribution.”
We’re told when he retired in 2012, he left the current owners with this advice: “Stand beside smart people. Listen to music and ask them what they hear and tell them what you hear, and you’ll develop a correlation between their thinking and yours.”
For nearly three decades, Hugo Fox performed with the Chicago Symphony. From 1922 to 1949, he was Principal Bassoon. But his dreams didn’t end after retirement. Instead, he returned to his family’s farm, beginning his journey to make his own line of bassoons, creating Fox Products, with the goal of manufacturing in the U.S.
In the 1950′s, Fox modified a chicken coop, turning it into his workshop, completing his first instrument within two years. After Fox’s health declined, his son Alan took over, leading the company in development of the contrabassoon, oboes, and the English horn. The family property became the site for Fox Products current building, and began shipping worldwide.
In 2012, the company was sold, entering new ownership under a long-time resident of South Whitley: Tony Starkey. HIs family runs the facility today, even expanding its presence in the town. In 2016, a second building was opened to bring silver plating in-house.
“A lot of instrument manufacturers are quick to move production overseas and to other places because it’s less expensive and saves on costs,” marketing specialist Stephanie Patterson explained, “but we really want to make sure we’re making everything we can and that we have control over the pieces.”
Cost of instruments range from a couple thousand dollars, to over $30,000! The wood they are crafted from is cut from logs on location, which are then aged up to twenty years. After the instruments take shape in shop, they are then moved from room to room. “So many different hands touch each of the instruments,” Patterson said. “We have teams of 30 to 40 people working on each instrument, just because there are so many different steps so people will master just their one step.”
“We have people that will spend their time in the body shop and they’re really good at sanding those properly — and people that make the keys,” she continued. “You have this team working together and anywhere in the line something can go wrong making this instrument — it’s going to affect everybody afterwords.”
Kris Slater, a pro bassoon key mounter, has done the job for nearly twenty years. Though he’s not a musician, his love for the double reeded instrument is in the craftsmanship. “There’s over 100 parts that I actually assemble on one bassoon,” he told us. “I take 30 to 40 hours to do my key work on one of these.”
“I like working with my hands, building things,” he added. “This is a craftsman style job where we’re taking parts, fitting them together, silver sautering them together. It’s almost akin to jewelry making.”
After a rigorous finishing process, every instrument is play tested to ensure it works flawlessly, before being shipped out. “Even though we’re making 7-8 bassoons a day, with some of our models you’ll have to wait nine-plus months,” Patterson said. “With our contrabassoons, you’ll have to wait a year to get one, and it’s because they are so specialized, people are willing to wait for these instruments you can’t get from anyone else.”
“We’re really proud that in this little unassuming factory, we make these really complicated, really detailed, really high quality instruments,” she concluded, “just in South Whitley, where we have one stop light, and make world class bassoons.”
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