Kiser Leaves Legacy of “Going Above and Beyond”
Come July, you might find Princeton’s municipal engineer Bob Kiser driving a tractor across the fields of a farm he owns in Hunterdon County. Mr. Kiser is retiring next week after 33 years on the job, and he is looking forward to spending time with his family С especially his six-and-a-half-month-old granddaughter С and cutting the grass with that tractor.
“It relaxes me,” Mr. Kiser said during an interview in his Witherspoon Hall office overlooking Route 206 this past Monday. “I grew up on a farm, so I feel comfortable in that setting.”
If Mr. Kiser has ever felt less than comfortable in his job shepherding numerous development projects through the many stages that are often involved, he hasn’t let on. His calm demeanor is among the many qualities for which colleagues are praising him as his final week approaches.
“Bob has been an excellent engineer, always going the extra mile for Princeton residents and totally unflappable,” commented Princeton Council member Jenny Crumiller, in an email. Councilwoman Heather Howard wrote, “In my years working with him, he always had a positive attitude about even the thorniest challenges, and made every resident feel like they were his most important priority.”
Councilman Bernie Miller commented, “As an engineer, if I were to write a specification for the job of municipal engineer, the specification would describe the personality and all of the skills embodied in our municipal engineer, Bob Kiser.” Councilman Patrick Simon wrote, “Particularly important is his personal presence, the sense that you can trust him to get the job done right. The many awards and accolades he has received over the past year reflect his great skill and many accomplishments.”
Characteristically modest about his reputation, Mr. Kiser said, “The nice thing about engineering is that our challenge is just to get things done. There isn’t a need for us to get in the fray, so we don’t.”
But Mr. Kiser admits there have been challenges over the years. The AvalonBay housing project, which is nearing completion just up Witherspoon Street from his office in Witherspoon Hall, “was very stressful,” he said. “And consolidation was trying for all of us. There was the additional time it took for meeting with various committees from the former Borough and Township. And for some people, there was the anxiety of not knowing if they’d still have a job.”
Mr. Kiser, who is 65, grew up on his family’s farm in Bridgewater. Becoming an engineer was, in some ways, a given. “My father was a civil engineer and my mother’s father was, too, so I guess it was in the genes,” he said. “I always gravitated toward that.”
Directly after his 1974 graduation from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, Mr. Kiser served as Easton’s City Engineer and Director of Public Service, overseeing a department of 150 people. “It was a tremendous opportunity, and I stayed nine years,” he said. He and his wife, Pam, who has just retired from a career as a pre-school teacher in Princeton, moved back to New Jersey after the death of Mr. Kiser’s father. The couple have three sons.
“My mother was on the 15-acre farm by herself. So we built her an addition and we moved in,” Mr. Kiser said. “I knew Princeton because my grandfather was a Princeton University graduate and my father went to Harvard, so we always went to the Princeton/Harvard football games. When the township engineer position became available, it was perfect.”
The year was 1983. “Things were significantly different in Princeton at that time,” Mr. Kiser said. “Whether in the former Borough or Township, summer was less busy because everyone went away, so we had summer hours and left at 4 p.m. But with the new developments going in at Russell Estates, Fieldwood, Griggs Farm, on Pretty Brook Road, and elsewhere over the next 30 years, all of that changed. We certainly don’t have summer hours anymore.”
One of his first assignments was to put a traffic light at the Valley Road entrance to the Princeton Shopping Center. “There were five traffic signals in the former Township when I started. Now there are 19,” he said. “That gives you a sense of the more rural type community we had then, and the surrounding area as well.”
Councilman Lance Liverman recalled a situation involving the shopping center as an example of Mr. Kiser’s going “above and beyond.” Elderly residents of Redding Circle would walk down Ewing Street to the center to buy groceries, but on their walk back with heavy bags they needed a place to sit and rest. “I mentioned this to Bob and without missing a beat, Bob responded that we must do something,” Mr. Liverman wrote. “There was a bench placed midway between Redding Circle and Princeton Shopping Center. The community at Redding Circle was so happy. This may not seem like much to many people, but if you are that elder walking home, you will feel different …. Princeton will never forget that Bob Kiser was an example to all of us how you love your job and serve with integrity and heart.”
When consolidation went into effect three years ago, Mr. Kiser was chosen to become municipal engineer for the merged Township and Borough. “Working and getting to know Bob Kiser has been a highlight of consolidation,” wrote Councilwoman Jo Butler in an email, citing his grasp of the issues and responsiveness to residents’ concerns. “We are very fortunate that his integrity and work ethic are ingrained in our engineering department,” she continued. “Bob made everyone who worked with him better. He is an exemplary employee, and we will miss him greatly.”
One of Mr. Kiser’s favorite projects was the 77-acre Mountain Lakes Preserve. “What was so heartwarming about that was the Johnson family [the Willard T.C. Johnson Foundation] stepping forward to provide the funding,” he said. He has enjoyed working with elected officials. “When Phyllis Marchand was [Township] mayor, we started the neighborhood meeting process in which we don’t do anything without meeting first with neighbors, and that continues to this day,” he said.
Deanna Stockton, who has served as assistant municipal engineer, will take over as municipal engineer when Mr. Kiser retires next month. “Between Deanna and [Land Use Engineer] Jack West, I feel very confident that the town will be well served,” Mr. Kiser said. “I’m leaving it in good hands. But leaving is a double-edged sword. I have been given a great opportunity to improve the quality of life in Princeton, and I have loved it. I will miss having that opportunity, and I will miss the people.”