Edgar “Eddie” Villchur, inventor of the AR speaker and first president of that company, writer, teacher, philanthropist, patron of the arts, father, husband, friend and host extraordinaire to Woodstockers of the WWII generation and beyond — died in his sleep at his Shotwell Road home on October 16; he was 94.
Plans for a career as a set designer with a Master’s degree in art history from City College were permanently postponed when Private Villchur, learned to repair electrical equipment for the Army Air Corps in New Guinea. By World War II’s end, Captain Villchur opened a radio shop on West 4th Street in NYC, his specialty — the phonograph. Marriage and children fast followed. Night school and self-styled research soon resulted in a string of articles garnering him a column in Audio Engineering Magazine. Despite the lack of a technical degree, NYU added Villchur’s “Reproduction of Sound,” to its class roster, creating a “captive audience,” from which the professor’s research would soon profit immensely.
Side-work at The Foundation for the Blind precipitated Villchur’s first invention: a “floating arm” and stylus for a hi-fi turntable which remained unpatented awaiting a breakthrough. Eddie had, by then, identified a glaring inadequacy in the “modern” hi-fi. On the strength of a promise from The Saturday Review to publish a series of articles, he moved his family upstate to Woodstock, renting from Gene and Hannah Ludens on Chestnut Hill Road. A few weeks later, between teaching trips to Manhattan, he completed a prototype of the acoustic suspension speaker fated to revolutionize the industry. It provided far superior reproduction of bass tones, while drastically diminishing the size of a speaker cabinet. Today an early model of that speaker is on permanent display at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.
Unsuccessful in interesting “the trade” in his improvements Villchur was soon convinced by his student, Henry Kloss, to co-found Acoustic Research, Inc. As president of the company, Eddie proved himself a savvy businessman while as inventor he continued to overhaul the modern phonograph, soon patenting the dome tweeter, vastly improving sound at “the high end.” He wrote AR’s highly successful, no-nonsense advertisements himself, became a hit at trade-shows, and pioneered listening rooms where people could hear AR speakers and stereo systems. However, with an almost perverse sense of fairness, Villchur forbade sales in or around these highly publicized showcases. He also sponsored “Live vs. Recorded concerts in which world famous musicians compared live performance to AR’s sound reproduction..
Selling the company in ‘67 to Teledyne, Villchur returned full time to research — this time, to aid the hearing impaired. With more money than he’d ever need and his interest in business, per se, supersaturated, Eddie spent the next 15 years making the same sort of across-the-board improvements on hearing aids as he had in the field of hi-fidelity. Today his breakthroughs are acknowledged as essential to a vastly improved technology, but because he chose not to patent this research, the name “Edgar M. Villchur” is not technically associated (except through publication) with work which, some would say, remains his more lasting legacy. Villchur no doubt argued either side of the debate depending upon his mood: the elevation of artistic expression versus the alleviation of human hardship…
Upon buying the Shotwell house in mid-fifties, “The Villchurs” immediately became the central hub on the wheel of Woodstock’s social whirl. Eddie’s lifelong love for painting, music, and word-smithery of the most far-flung sort, happily manifested in great affection for local masters of these arts. Eddie and his wife Rosemary (herself, accomplished in pen & ink) threw their house open to fencing breakfasts for the men, fast followed by archery lunches for the wives, these naturally leading to the legendary, invitation only, New Year’s Day Party. This glorious tradition of a half century or more ended only two years ago when a stroke laid Eddie low. He was battling back from this bodily insult, demonstrating the same dogged determination which won him mastery in two fields of science, when a relapse struck. He died last Sunday, at home, in his sleep.
Eddie Villchur is survived by his wife, Rosemary (Romy), daughter Miriam, and son Mark. A memorial celebrating his life will take place at the Woodstock Artists Association Museum at 11 a.m. this Sunday, October 23.
Through the years the Villchurs have been avid supporters of Family of Woodstock, The Woodstock Emergency Rescue Squad, the Woodstock Fire Department, the Woodstock Library, Maverick Concerts, and the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum. Donations in the name of Edgar Villchur can be made to any of these organizations.