Hospitality is alive and well at the home of Phyllis and Bob Kiser. Nothing hits the spot quite like a bottomless coffee cup and an endless supply of homemade treats to chase off the chill during an early morning interview.
Kiser was born in a Williamson, West Virginia, city apartment during the summer of 1931. Eight years later, they moved into their new home in Williamson. His father was vice president at the local Royal Crown Bottling plant. His mother was a super cook — especially when it came to her homemade vegetable soup and graham cracker cream pie. Tug River was a great place for swimming and a better place to go gigging for frogs. Kiser told of the time he was frog gigging and met up with a couple of older boys who were drinking what looked like water from a Mason jar that they shared with him.
“I don’t remember drinking much of that stuff,” he said. “I do remember how it burned going down. Walking home, I lost my balance crossing a log, fell in the river and lost all my frogs. Never drank the stuff again. We didn’t have a TV set, and the only good radio station was WVTH. There were three movies downtown: one showed mostly Westerns, one always had first-run movies, and the other showed a lot of older B films. I always enjoyed window shopping at the two 5 & dime stores.”
Kiser attended Marin grade school in Williamson. He carried his lunch and was dropped off each morning by his father going to work. He was also transported to the First Baptist Church each Sunday.
“Williamson Junior High and High School were both in the same building,” Kiser said. “I was dropped off by my father until age 16 when I got my driver’s license and began driving to school. That first car was a 1940 Ford sedan that increased my popularity at school. By 16, I began working summers and after school at the Royal Crown bottling plant. Franklin Dairy Bar was a cool place to hang out for anything ice cream. The Youth Center had a dance floor with a juke box that drew big crowds on Saturday night.”
Not only did Kiser play the trumpet in the high school band, he played with a quartet that was pretty good. They were good enough to play special events locally, and they also played at Camden Park and Dreamland Pool’s pavilion on occasions.
“After I graduated from Williamson High School in 1949, I continued working with my father until I was drafted by the Army in 1954,” Kiser said. “I was in the Army Reserve for about two years before receiving my draft notice. Boot camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, wasn’t that bad. They even kept me for an additional 10 weeks helping with the next class of recruits. I was happy to leave Fort Knox because the chow hall often served C rations that smelled like sour milk. On those days, I survived on crackers and peanut butter.”
His next assignment would take him to a small tank company in Germany assigned to the 12th Infantry regiment. It was during the Cold War, and everyone stayed on pins and needles.
“Alerts were often,” Kiser said. “Training was constant — always staying prepared for an actual emergency and never knowing if the next alert was another training exercise or the real thing.”
Despite requests to re-enlist Kiser was happy to be discharged and returned to the bottling plant, where he became a delivery driver.
“That’s how I met Phyllis,” he said. “She was pumping gas at a convenience store, and I pulled in to make a delivery. I was smitten on the spot. That was in July of 1956. We were engaged by Christmas and married in March of 1957. Three children and seven grandchildren later, we’re still holding hands.”
Kiser was among a group of veterans to fly on a recent Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He said it was one of the most well-orchestrated military events he has ever had the privilege to be part of.
“Being legally blind, I was assigned a guardian on Honor Flight that accompanied my every step,” Kiser said. “We became close friends. In fact, I made several close friends that day — a day I will cherish forever!”
Kiser eventually retired after 32 years with Persinger Supply in Huntington. Before his eyes began to fail him, he was an avid golfer who played about three times a week.