Bill Reiser '52
A Role Model For All Alumni
Bill Reiser ‘52 sits in the living room of his Yorktown, Virginia home and watches the boats float along Wormley Creek and on into the York River. The boats travel at a quiet, patient pace that seem to mirror the rhythm of the man watching from his living room. Those that know this Hampton, Virginia native understand his connection with the water, to the history of this coastal region, and the country these waterways helped build. More importantly, spending an afternoon chatting with Reiser, reveals a quiet man whose actions speak louder than words, and inspire others.
To say Bill Reiser is a master craftsman is an understatement. The businesses he built and the structures he assembled and repaired are inspiring. St. Francis of Assisi summed it up when he said, “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” Reiser does not consider himself an artist, but when you see his work, it exemplifies the mastery that comes from the heart.
To the left of his home sits Wormley Creek Marina, Reiser’s business and place of work for over 40 years. The marina is known as “a little slice of heaven on the lower Chesapeake Bay”, and prides itself for serving each customer with excellence. Reiser’s character and work ethic developed the culture of the business which he has passed on to the present-day owners, Doug and Pam Truston. They credit him for this standard of excellent care.
In front of Reiser’s waterfront property sit a series of handcrafted docks and ramped walkways that were once meant to serve his wife Bette Jo. Due to illness she was unable get up and down stairs. After Bette Jo passed in 2009, Reiser’s craftmanship did not go to waste. For more than a quarter century, along with the Yorktown Virginia Rotary Club, Reiser has hosted a fishing excursion for VA Hospital spinal cord patients.
It all started when Reiser got a call in the early 1990s from FUMA classmate Tom Harris ‘53. Tom, who had recently undergone heart surgery, was asking if he could bring a couple of VA Hospital buddies with spinal cord injuries and help them fish. Simply put, they just needed a fishing spot. "They were looking for some place to get close enough where these guys could throw a line in the water," Reiser said. "Tom, my friend, knew I had the marina and docks and everything there.” Reiser wanted to help these deserving veterans. “I can see just by the grace of God, it’s not me instead of them.” This small event has grown into a large production of multiple boats, cookouts, and an army of volunteer men and women arriving at Reiser’s home to ensure these disabled veterans have a wonderful experience. These acts of selflessness were inspired by an opportunity presented by another FUMA alum but were bred from the formation he experienced in his early years at the Academy.
Reiser came to Fork Union Military Academy in the fall of 1948 as a young ninth grader. It was at the encouragement of his mother who thought he needed a change of scenery. “I wasn’t interested much in my schoolwork. I just wanted to play ball and build models.” Like many FUMA cadets it was a tough transition. “It was a pretty rough time in 1948 for someone in the ninth grade. My first two years I did not like it very much, but my eleventh and twelfth grade years were much better. I was the company commander of the non-ROTC cadets my last year.” Like back home in Hampton, baseball was one of his favorite escapes from the rigors of military life. It also did not take long for Reiser to become involved in his true craft of building with his hands. “I became president of the model building club.” There were not many options for cadets to build but Reiser found his passion and led the way.
Reiser was accepted in the engineering school at the University of Virginia but after a year in Charlottesville he decided the traditional classroom was not the route he wanted to take. “Some people can sit still in a classroom, but I thought I got to go get a job.” Reiser packed his bags and headed back to the tidewater region enrolling in The Apprentice School in Newport News.
His life of building continued but now it would be focused on the water. He started a business on the side helping ships in the busy port that dropped anchor because they could not get to the dock. “Next thing I knew we had a big business going, transporting supplies and taking people to and from the dock.” Reiser ended up selling that business and transferring all his energy to Wormley Creek Marina in 1955. Throughout the next 44 years he operated the marina alongside his wife, Bette. Simultaneously, he felt called to give back to the Academy.
“When I left the school, if you’d asked me if I would ever be involved with it [FUMA], I don’t know what I’d have said”, Reiser says with a laugh. Not only has he been involved, but he has been a role model for all alumni.
Along with Jack Adams ‘52 and the late Lin Bates ‘48, they laid the foundation for what is the development office’s alumni database. This was in a time before the internet and cellphones. “The roll at Fork Union was almost non-existent. We were missing almost two-thirds of my class. They only had the names of alumni that would come back and visit. We were allowed in the basement of Hatcher Hall where all the records were, so we went through the yearbooks and compiled a list of over 3,000 names. Jack Adams had an old 800 number, and we would call their hometown.” They eventually handed their research over to the FUMA staff.
But research and database work are not Reiser’s passion. At the calling of former FUMA commandant and president R.L. “Red” Pulliam, Reiser’s craftmanship would be put to work for the cadets and alumni. “Red said ‘Fork Union needs a cannon’. He found two old war cannons, but they needed to be refurbished and assembled. At first, I thought, what have I gotten myself into…...but if I was going to do it, I had to do it right.” Reiser’s only stipulation for his work was that the cannon be named the Alumni Cannon. It has been fired in all the parades since the mid-eighties and is a part of the fabric on FUMA.
Reiser recently completed the second cannon which sits in the Beatty Library. The Alumni Association donated it to the Academy in honor of Lt. General John E. Jackson Jr., FUMA’s president for seventeen years.
Reiser’s other work of art on the FUMA campus is the cannon that sits in the Veterans Memorial along Route 15. This World War I cannon needed a complete overhaul. Reiser was up to the challenge and once again donated his time and energy back to his school to refurbish it.
Bill Reiser has not missed an Alumni Weekend in over 50 years. “If there is an event on campus, I will make sure that I am there.” He also regularly welcomes fellow alums and friends to his beautiful Yorktown home. Some of his favorite memories are hosting FUMA cadets and teachers to stay the night and take private guided tours of the museums in the area. The visits come with a boat ride on the York River, captained by Reiser.
His work as a member and past president of the alumni association, along with his donation of the three cannons are invaluable to the Academy, but when pressed to say what he was most proud of, Reiser often points to the relationships he has been able to maintain with his FUMA brothers. “One of the most enjoyable experiences in my life is going back and seeing the fellas I went to school with…...Gosh, it’s just so much fun.”
Reiser has given more than his talent back to his school, recently endowing a scholarship honoring his late wife, Bette. Like Reiser himself, the secret to his devotion to FUMA is not complicated. “We all have talents and the school could certainly use our talents in one way or another.”