Bill Kyger reflects on 36 years as a Rockingham County Supervisor
HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Longtime Rockingham County District 4 Supervisor Bill Kyger is in his final two months in office. Kyger is not seeking reelection and will retire at the end of the year when his term ends, he is the board’s longest-serving member having first been elected in 1988.
After 36 years on the board, Kyger felt that this is the right time to step away, WHSV caught up with him as he prepares to retire to look back at his time as a supervisor.
“There comes a time in everything for the torch to be passed to new ideas, new energy, new people. I spent too many birthday parties away, too many anniversaries away, too many family things away from my family,” said Kyger. “I need to spend time with my wife we are evolving as the days go by and each day is I think more important to us together.”
Kyger said that the timing of exit also feels right as he sees the way that local government is changing.
“I think that the timing is good because I don’t like the politics that have crept into local government. Local government up to this point has never been political, it’s always been about service and I see that drifting away nationwide,” he said.
Kyger was asked to run to represent the Bridgewater and Mount Crawford area of the county back in 1988, after discussing it with his wife he decided to run and the rest is history. Over the years Kyger saw his job evolve as the county grew.
“When I first got on the board of supervisors I was pretty much a rural legislator and then I became a rural and suburban legislator, and now I’m becoming a rural, suburban, and urban legislator,” he said.
However, despite the county’s continued growth, Kyger feels that it has never lost its character.
“What’s amazing is we’ve been able to keep our rural heritage and our agricultural heritage. As a matter of fact, agricultural production in Rockingham County continues to grow not shrink as the population continues to grow at about one percent or less a year,” he said.
In some ways, Kyger said that Rockingham County is envied by other counties around Virginia because of how it has balanced its growth while maintaining much of its rural nature.
“I have colleagues that live in Southwest Virginia that wish they had the environment we have here. They have young people graduating from High School and not coming back home, and here we have people graduating from JMU and Bridgewater and they don’t want to go back home they want to stay here. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing so you have to put things in balance and plan very well,” said Kyger.
Kyger said that there have been many factors over the years that have led to the economic and population growth of Rockingham County. These include Sentara RMH moving to the Stone-Port area, the expansion of both Merck and Coors facilities in the county, and the booming poultry industry.
“We are the agricultural king primarily because of poultry. If the poultry industry weren’t here I don’t know how significant Rockingham County would be in agriculture but it is here and it’s a powerful engine, it needs to be protected as well,” he said. “I think the factor that helps agriculture the best is we have a cultured community particularly West of Bridgewater and Dayton that tends to hold onto the land and not sell it. That helps maintain the agricultural heritage of Rockingham and balance that against some of the growth factors that are happening in the center,” he said.
However, the biggest change Kyger has seen in his time on the board has been the growth of JMU and the ripple effect it has had on the county.
“We have 24,000-25,000 new residents every August and they’re here for 10 months. They’re spending a lot of money and so that attracts more businesses to want to come here. We would not have a lot of the chain restaurants, department stores, and things that we have were it not for the JMU student body being here,” he said.
In 36 years Kyger has been a part of a lot of big decisions. He said what he is most proud of are the improvements the board has made for Rockingham County Public Schools.
“Rehabbing all our schools and doing the projects that we did, we laid those capital projects out over a period of time with an intended purpose to either build new schools or rehab old schools to make them more modern and efficient. To be able to provide adequate facilities for young people to be educated that is important,” he said. “The expansion of Massanutten Votech, it’s one of the most critical components of what we offer in education to our employers now and future employers to Rockingham County.”
Kyger said that he believes the biggest challenge facing Rockingham County now is maintaining the attention it needs in Richmond.
“The area West of the Blue Ridge is sometimes an afterthought rather than a main thought. One only has to look to Interstate 81 and the way they’re going to bottleneck approach the fix to that when they should be laying that thing from Bristol to Winchester,” he said. “We don’t have the population, we don’t have the delegates or the senators to have the loudest voice, we have an effective voice in Richmond but we don’t have the loudest voice.”
With the retirement of Kyger and Mike Breeden, the board will have two new members at the start of next year. WHSV asked Kyger was advice he would give to whoever winds up replacing him.
“Just listen, don’t be in a hurry to make a decision. Listen to all of the facts, try to learn, and discern through the emotion of opinion,” he said. “What I’ve learned in 36 years, is opinions tend to be about 60 percent emotion and 40 percent facts. So you’ve got to get to the facts and you’ve got to weigh all those and see where the facts are and where they’re going to lead you and a decision that’s short term and then how that’s going to affect the long term.”
Kyger also said that the new supervisors should lean on county staff when they need to.
“I’ve seen the staff advance from being marginally technical to highly technical trained people. We have some great experts that work for Rockingham County and that would be some advice for whoever follows me and anybody else that comes, listen to the people you pay because they’re pretty smart people,” he said.
As he prepares to retire Kyger said what he’ll miss most about being a supervisor is the comradery with his fellow supervisors and county staff.
“I’ve had great colleagues on the board over the years, just so many of them, and all of them that are still alive are very dear friends. We had our knockdown drag outs but we also never walked away from a meeting angry,” he said.
Kyger said he is very thankful for the chance to serve his community that he was given over the last 36 years.
“I’ve been very humbled and privileged to have served so many people over the past 36 years and I have a great deal of gratitude and thanks for their appreciation of me and their trust in me. So thank you Rockingham County,” he said.
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