With his retirement this year, Dr. Lee Kiser, Professor of Mathematics at Florida Keys Community College, will end a long and prestigious career in the field of higher education.
His 41-year career as a mathematics professor began at Berea College in Kentucky. While studying math and French, Kiser was employed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for two summer breaks.
“That was during a period when math and science were heavily emphasized in this country,” Kiser explained, “So, Berea wanted all the mathematicians and scientists working for NASA.”
His first summer as a math assistant was not nearly as eventful as the second summer when he worked as an assistant in a high powered wind tunnel that tested varying shapes of nose cones for re-entry vehicles like space shuttles.
He recounted the morning after someone forgot to turn off the propane gas tank that resulted in a slow, overnight leak. When a technician went to turn on the wind tunnel, the model exploded and blew straight through a six-foot concrete wall and into the marsh at Hampton Roads in the professor’s native Virginia.
“The boss was a real hot-headed Irishman and he was just screaming, ‘You know we could have all been killed?!’” Kiser laughed as he remembered the incident.
His study of mathematics was applicable in the field, and NASA even offered Kiser a full-time position. But, he was committed to his studies and insisted on returning to Kentucky to complete his degree.
This year has been one of milestones for Kiser, only one of which includes his retirement. He’s celebrated his 65th year, and in August, he and his wife, Marcia Lee, will celebrate their 40th anniversary.
After earning his master’s at Ohio University, Kiser returned to his native state to teach at Virginia Tech while he earned a second master’s degree.
Six years in Blacksburg were followed by a five-year stint at Coastal Carolina Community College. Though so many years ago, his record shows Kiser was slowly working his way down the East Coast before finally landing in the Keys sixteen years ago.
“I told my wife I got a job in Jacksonville, and she was so happy. When I told her it was Jacksonville, North Carolina, not Jacksonville, Florida, she was pretty disappointed.”
Three years at Bethune-Cookman College, where he received his first Excellence in Teaching Award, preceded a career at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona. It was there that Kiser earned his tenure and full professorship.
The pair made their first trek to the Keys in 1970, but had always loved coming down from their home in Ormond Beach for regular vacations. Marcia, a nurse, had faithfully supported her husband’s career for decades, and when she expressed an interest in working with AIDS patients at Lower Keys Medical Center, Kiser agreed to support her decision to move to the Keys.
“I really prayed about it and decided that the kids in the Keys really needed me more than those students at that big university,” he remembered.
Kiser said one of his career highlights was completing his doctorate at the University of Florida in 1986. Among his teaching awards, Kiser has been recognized twice during his fourteen years at FKCC as Teacher of the Year.
“I love standing in front of my students and watching them learn,” Kiser admitted. “To watch their faces light up when they begin to understand what I’m teaching, well, they just help to keep me young.”
Kiser considers himself lucky that teaching has always come naturally. The calendar on his desk in his office is marked with vertical slashes as he counts down the twenty some odd days until his official retirement.
“After 41 years of teaching, I wonder if I’m going to go through some sort of withdrawal symptoms,” he laughed. “My sister, who knows me very well, said she’s sure I’ll keep my hand in teaching somehow, somewhere.”
He’s looking forward to spending more time out on his boat snorkeling, diving, boating and generally just enjoying life.
But, his sister is right.
Kiser said he and Marcia have been researching the possibility of driving their RV loaded with their four shi-tzus and one kitty out to South Dakota to work with the Lakota Sioux on their reservation. They’ve been in contact with the chief who is open to the couple sharing their wisdom with his tribe.
“I’ll teach them math and she’ll help them with drug and alcohol rehabilitation,” he said. “I’ve never been out to that part of the country, so this will be a whole new adventure.”
Dr. Lee Kiser is looking forward to spending more time cruising the open road following his retirement in June. “When you’re out there on the open road with the wind in your hair, it’s just something else. People think we’re crazy, but my wife and I love meeting all the different people that make up the motorcycle community.”